Understanding the Complex ‘Constellation of Factors’ That Shape Mental Health
Studying psychiatric illnesses—who develops them and why—Jaimie Gradus (SPH’04, ’09) is always trying to understand the complex “constellation of factors” that shapes a person’s mental health.
In a recent study, Gradus, associate professor of epidemiology, and colleagues at SPH and Aarhus University in Denmark used machine learning to look for new suicide risk patterns in thousands of different factors in data from the entire Danish population. That study generated new potential areas for future research, including physical health affecting suicide risk for men but not women, and how long after a psychiatric diagnosis or medication someone may be at particular risk.
When Gradus thinks about the future of public health, she is most enthusiastic about the growing appreciation for social determinants of health—class, race/ethnicity, neighborhood, gender and sexuality, and other factors that shape a person’s ability to be healthy. She notes that she’d rarely hear about social determinants (outside of the mental health space) as a master’s and doctoral student at SPH. Now, she says, the public health community is increasingly recognizing that social determinants are key to everything from cancer to cardiovascular disease, and that preventing disease and improving outcomes takes social
Pointing to the example set by Dean Sandro Galea, who “is publicly vocal about these issues and is always pushing us to be better and helping us be better in grappling with them,” Gradus says SPH is at the forefront of that shift in public health: “Someday, I will look back on my time at SPH and think, ‘That place was on the right side of things.’”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. 1-800-273-8255