It’s now been a full year since I joined the Mental Health Foundation. And it certainly was an interesting year. Leading the organisation’s public health innovation and development function has in turn led me to an extremely rewarding journey. For me, public health is – simply and above all – my means to make a difference to a world succumbing to an ever expanding rhetoric of intolerance.
Public Health is medical practice when implemented across populations and not individuals. While a traditional doctor treats individuals who are sick, those of us working in public health try to prevent populations from getting sick in the first place, while also promoting wellness and wellbeing by encouraging healthy behaviours.
Public Health is inclusive. Working with a population (a group of people) means that you need to look into the settings that surround and affect this group, and these include social, economic, geographical, environmental, political factors. This, in turn, means that, by definition, in order to prevent diseases (or reduce morbidity), you target those groups who are at the highest risk of developing an illness (which are often the groups that face the most significant inequalities and the real discrimination).
Public Health demands long term vision. Rarely will the structural changes that you implement in a community or across populations bear fruit quickly. In fact, focusing on prevention – which is the fundamental focus of population approaches targeting healthy nations – demands dedication and commitment. The latter means that we often have to ask governments to implement measures that will not show a return on investment during their current political terms. Countries that lack this long term vision are the ones lagging behind.
Public Health requires systems and structures thinking. Which means that we need to work in partnership and across borders, as public health is by default a global discipline. And it draws from all settings. Appreciating systems and structures of other countries and continents allows one to think holistically and to escape the bubble that surrounds your microcosm. Especially the bubble that makes the North American-Western European cluster feel that it is (or makes) the norm in everything.
So in this past year, amidst piles of paper, human resources policies, hand shaking events, report editing, budget setting, and managing my wonderful team of 25 people, I have appreciated working in a position that allows me to promote inclusion, tackle inequalities, challenge for a global perspective, push the boundaries of innovation, and achieve impact in the real world. Here’s to the next challenge.