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Dean’s Letter – Fall 2023

Wayne H. Giles photo

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the mental health of people in the U.S. has received renewed focus. Of course, the challenges of social disconnection, stress and fracturing community spaces in the U.S. began long before any of us had ever heard of COVID-19.

Earlier this year, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, highlighted these key public health challenges with a pair of reports, “The Surgeon General’s Advisory on Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation” and “Social Media and Youth Mental Health.” Murthy challenged public health professionals to “…prioritize building social connection the same way we have prioritized other critical public health issues such as tobacco, obesity and substance use disorders.”

Our Fall 2023 edition of Healthviews Magazine gives you an inside look at how we’re grappling with the intersection of public health and mental health in communities near and far. Our cover features an image of Promontory Point, a part of Chicago’s Burnham Park on the south side of the city. With its swimming beach, campfire rings and walking paths, the Point is a place for people from across Chicago to come together for recreation and socialization.

Yet as public health researchers and practitioners, we know that the built environment on its own is not enough to bridge gaps of isolation, health and wellness. Our stories in this magazine describe the challenges and possible solutions our communities need to heal and restore mental health. Researchers and alumni of SPH are collaborating with Chicago Public Schools to build its capacity to address mental and physical health at the school level, including the unique needs of LGBTQ+ students. Our division of community health sciences is producing outstanding scholarship on the connections between mid-life stressors and cognitive decline among Black populations and
how loneliness is a true health disparity for Black communities.

You will also read about the how stigma and social influence are limiting cervical cancer screening and vaccination rates, as well as an overview of the crisis of health misinformation in the U.S. And a story on a new effort from SPH’s Collaboratory for Health Justice shows how community course alignment can begin bridging disconnectedness in our communities, linking academia and community-based organizations.

Here at the UIC School of Public Health, we are committed to working with you and our community partners to highlight and mitigate how mental health is impacting the public’s health. We know that our research, practice and community-engaged efforts to address chronic diseases, mitigate environmental exposures, protect workers, influence policies and strengthen communities will be more effective with an approach that integrates mental and social well-being.

In good health,

Wayne H. Giles, MD, MS
Dean of the UIC SChool of Public Health