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Mental Health and Well-BeingMaternal and Child Health

Promoting Mental Health and Well-Being through Public Health Law

February 1, 2017


Across the United States, people are identifying mental health as an unmet need in their communities, and are beginning to devise strategies to promote mental health and well-being. Just as we have come to understand the role of the social determinants of health with respect to physical health, we have a growing awareness of the influence of the social determinants of mental health.

Historically, mental health was viewed as primarily a matter of individual health. Just as we have come to understand the role of social, economic, and environmental factors with respect to physical health, we have a growing awareness of the influence of social determinants of mental health. Nor can we separate physical and mental health. The two are interconnected in complex ways; because how we manage adverse childhood experiences, trauma, and stress can impact our vulnerability or resistance to both infectious and chronic disease. 

Here in the Network, we have been scanning the field for promising developments in the area of law and policy to promote mental health and well-being. We have some ideas based on practical programs we’re seeing implemented on the ground, as well as the evidence in the research. Yet we know that in addition to wanting a menu of policy options to choose from, many communities seek guidance on how to prioritize programs, policies, and laws that will have the greatest impact or that will be the best fit for their communities. We also believe that many people are looking for opportunities to engage in dialogue, debate and strategic planning about how to advance mental health and well-being through law and policy. A recent Minnesota Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health is one example of engagement in this type of activity at the state level.

Perhaps it’s worth saying explicitly that if you’ve ever wondered if you could turn to the Network with questions about how to use the law to promote mental health and well-being in your community, the answer is yes! Let us know what approaches you’re implementing or planning to implement, and how we can help.

As a sample of the kinds of approaches we hope to explore, analyze and spread together with a growing movement of people in the coming years, here are some of the approaches to mental health promotion through programs, policies and laws that we’ve identified to date:

What programs, policies, and laws would you add to the list?

Finally, we will convene a strategic planning meeting in Minneapolis on April 19-20 to begin to take this conversation to the next level. This will be a working gathering to make new connections, share promising strategies and innovations in law and policy to promote mental health and well-being, and identify needed legal research, analysis, and tools. Space is limited, so if you are interested in participating, please contact Jill Krueger ( or Brittney Bauerly ( Whether or not you participate in the meeting, watch this space for future developments!

This post was prepared by Jill Krueger, J.D., director of the Network for Public Health Law—Northern Region.

The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state.

Support for the Network is provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, RWJF.