Giving Compass' Take:

•  Sarah McCarthy observes that the television show '"This Is Us" effectively portrays how social detriments of health impact people from the time they are born into their late adulthood. 

• Incorporating social and mental health issues into a widely popular television show can have a strong impact on viewers. What more can we do to highlight and unpack the social detriments of health so that people can become more aware of them and how they are affected?

• Take a look at other shows that leave viewers with a strong message about mental health

Before last week, if you asked me why I loved the NBC drama “This Is Us” I would have spoken about the ways each character has the most perfect imperfections resulting in layered portrayals that include addiction and a dark struggle with fame, living with anxiety as a super-achiever, or facing fears relating to obesity and the risk of miscarriage.

But last week's season finale pulled particularly hard on my public health researcher heartstrings. In that one hour, the show catapulted from simply following the complex (and tear-inducing) storylines of an extended family to illustrating a far more nuanced story of families across America. As the show jumped back and forth in time to show parallel moments in the lives of its characters—from birth, through childhood, young adulthood and beyond—the consequences of social determinants of health came alive.

The “social determinants of health” are those things that illustrate how our health is impacted not only by our individual behaviors, but also by the larger contexts in which we live. Things like our level of income, quality of housing and having access to health care. The World Health Organization (PDF) developed a framework that maps out the social determinants of health. Quite honestly, I have a doctorate in public health and can still find it challenging to follow all the arrows and lines in the diagram meant to illustrate the complex relationships between people; their communities; and the larger social, economic, and political contexts in which we live. A colleague recently summarized it well: The framework illustrates how the conditions in which we live, learn, work and play can all impact our health.

Read more about public health by Sarah MacCarthy at RAND Corporation