Conferences & Events / Social Justice

“The Social Determinants of Urban Mental Health: Paving the Way Forward” – Rachel Wick, Jane Isaacs Lowe

The Adler School social media team has been blogging with updates and reaction throughout this week (Sept. 19-2o) from “The Social Determinants of Urban Mental Health: Paving the Way Forward” in Chicago, hosted by the Adler School Institute on Social Exclusion.  Posts are written by our students, each summarizing speakers, presentations and observations from the conference.  See more conversation on Twitter (#ISE2012).

A panel of foundation officials described how philanthropic bodies are operationalizing and applying the social determinants framework in their programmatic and funding priorities.

Rachel Wick, M.P.H. Director of Policy, Planning and Special Projects, Consumer Health Foundation, described issues that have catalyzed conversation around health equity, including research about social determinants, disparities by race and ethnicity, and conversations with members of communities. While it is popular to intellectualize the disparities, researchers have found that community members define good mental health as access to quality schools, transportation, and jobs with adequate wages while addressing the implications of racism on their overall health. In moving from the individual framework to a community-based structure, it is important to explore alternative modalities, Wick said, such as partnerships with creative artists in the music and film industry.

Additionally, it is imperative to investigate where communities are already working within the intersections, including:

  • transforming systems that are cycling people in/out of jails
  • empowering residents to advocate for their housing needs
  • impacting the fear and deportation on family & community
  • stimulating the development of “neighbor circles”
  • bridging diversity by helping young people learn leadership skills to be future “bridge-builders”

A critical way to move forward is a holistic approach of involving and engaging the community in the process of improving mental health.

Jane Isaacs Lowe, Ph.D., Senior Program Officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, presented the foundation’s focus on building healthier, more productive lives by creating opportunities for good health among those most vulnerable and resistant to change. It is important to have viable, practical, evidence-based strategies that are non-medical and can improve overall health.

While working in the community, messages must be based on American core values with an individual commitment to making responsible choices, as well as a societal component to help individuals come to a place to make those choices.

Three pieces emerged:

  •  The U.S. has capacity to be the healthiest nation.
  • Children are dying before their parents and ending generations.
  • Zip code is more important than genetic code to determine health.

It is important to invest in what works in the community:

Both presenters touched on the keys to changing mental health in the future include neuroscience, trauma-informed care, and real-world interventions to build resiliency and ameliorate stress in individuals and communities.


– Dana Whitt, Adler School of Professional Psychology