Satcher, who served as surgeon general under President Clinton, is director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine. The mission of the institute is to develop a diverse group of public health leaders, foster and support leadership strategies, and influence policies toward the reduction and ultimate elimination of disparities in health.
Satcher emphasized at the institute that eliminating health disparities was not possible without addressing the mental health needs of underserved populations, noting that "there is no health without mental health." He recalled that in 1999 the first surgeon general's report on mental health was released, and he said the report brought out some important fundamental messages that he said he believes have taken root; among these is the importance of integrating mental health and general medical care. He cited statistics showing that globally mental illness is the leading cause of disability.
Satcher outlined the characteristics of leaders and the special challenges confronting the development of effective policies that can help to eliminate disparities. Prominent among these is misinformation about health and mental health--such as the stigma long attached to mental health problems. And he cited current prevalent fears about the Ebola virus--fed by relentless media coverage--as evidence that "irrational beliefs can be more powerful than science."
Linking evidenced-based science to rational public policy is the key to eliminating disparities. "We need the science," he told psychiatrists. "We need you to continue to do the science to capture the best of your practices so that everyone can learn from it. And we all need to [advocate for effective policies]. This dynamic interaction between science and public policy is critical to improving public population health."
(Image: Stuart Brinin)