Social Determinants of Urban Mental Health

September 19-20, the Adler School of Professional Psychology hosted a conference about the social determinants of urban mental health. Jane Isaacs Lowe of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation attended and spoke at the event.


  1. We share some of the highlights from and resources shared at the conference. For a more comprehensive overview, visit the stories from Day One and Day Two that were developed by The Adler School, as well as their recaps on their blog.

  2. Day One, September 19

  3. "One of the most memorable speakers for me was Professor Michael G. Marmot of the University College London who gave the opening keynote. Marmot — who received a standing ovation from the room — talked, in part, about the impact of the social determinants of health as existing on a gradient. It's not just, 'If you're poor, your health is bad.' Instead he says that, if you're in the middle of the gradient, you're going to have a shorter life expectancy than if you're at the top of the gradient. Yes, we need to focus on the plight of those that are worse off, but to improve the health of the whole population, we have to be really aware of how we can improve the outcomes for people along the gradient." - Jane Isaacs Lowe
  4. Marmot is the Chair of the WHO's Commission on on the Social Determinants of Health. We shared the link to the Commission's final report as well as an additional publication from Marmot's Institute of Health Equity via Twitter (@RWJF_VP) during the conference if you're interested in learning more about his work.
  5. Dr. Alex Richardson of Oxford and Food and Behaviour Research, a UK charity, gave an incredibly impassioned talk about the relationship between nutrition and mental health. Did you know that 60 percent of our brains are fat? We need the right kinds of fat — Omega-3 and Omega-6 polyunsaturates — to keep it healthy.
  6. Dr. Kwame McKenzie, the Medical Director of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto was the afternoon's plenary speaker. McKenzie spoke to the crowd about the need for those who focus on biological causes for psychosis to come together more effectively with those who focus on social determinants — and vice versa. 
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  8. "While he was in part speaking about the need to bridge academic divides, McKenzie's perspective resonated with our approach at the Foundation. We're always looking for opportunities for cross-sector and cross-agency collaborations, because none of these determinants exist in isolation. We're not going to solve the impacts of the social determinants of health by operating within our own little silos. Beyond just Dr. McKenzie, I think that's really what so many of the speakers were talking about: how to build bridges from transportation to public safety to jobs to employment and to education." - Jane Isaacs Lowe
  9. Day Two, September 20

  10. The Adler School wants their students to be able to operate beyond the clinical setting and to understand the role of policy change in improving the mental health of those living in urban environments. A fascinating panel on Day Two, co-presented by Marice Ashe of ChangeLab Solutions and Dr. Mark Hatzenbuehler of Columbia University, specifically looked at how policy can — both positively and negatively — impact mental health.
  11. Mark Hatzenbuehler, who is an RWJF Health and Society Scholar, shared his fascinating research on the relationship between policies — employment discrimination, same sex marriage and anti-bullying — that did not provide protection based on sexual orientation and mood disorders within lesbian, gay and bisexual populations.

  12. Thank you to Rachel Wick at the Consumer Health Foundation for joining Jane on the panel to discuss how philanthropies — both big and small — are incorporating the social determinants of health into our work. Below are a few excerpts from Jane's talk.

  13. "If we are truly serious about addressing the health of America’s most vulnerable populations, we can't limit ourselves to what happens in the doctor’s office or the hospital, or even to health behaviors like smoking.  We have to look at where health begins, and how it gets shaped and evolves in the real world.  Because if someone is homeless, or experiences or repeatedly witnesses violence, or goes to a failing school, or is chronically unemployed, in reality those are greater barriers to health than not having health insurance or access to medical care."  

    "As a foundation, our heightened awareness of social factors as key determinants of health has reframed our search for new solutions and pathways to improving health.  In seeking ideas with the potential for big, positive change, we recognize the need to look at health more broadly – to set aside the conventional silos that put health here and education there and instead search out the connections between health and education, housing, public safety, and employment."

    "All of you in this room have the potential to be strong advocates for making health matter as you are on the front line of delivering care to the most vulnerable and marginalized of populations and you know how lives can be transformed by your work."