Public Health Psychology

During a pandemic like the 2009 influenza A (H1N1) flu virus, public health professionals are quoted in newspapers and blogs, and they appear on television and radio. They report on virus specifics and how it spreads, offer treatment options for those contracting the virus, and help promote prevention techniques to contain the further spread of such an unpredictable disease.

Besides pandemics, however,  public health professionals conduct research and educate people on a multitude of far-reaching health concerns. One of the newest fields in public health, Public Health Psychology, expands the public health field by applying psychology to a population’s overall health and well-being. Like other public health professions, those in public health psychology address health concerns for whole populations or sub-populations of people.

Because chronic diseases – also called non-communicable diseases – are the leading causes of illness and death today, public health psychology professionals focus on the connection between behavioral and emotional factors contributing to these illnesses. These illnesses include cardiovascular disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer and degenerative diseases.

“Non-communicable diseases cause 38 million deaths annually…” according to the World Health Organization. The WHO also reports that 80% of these deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries, and it forecasts deaths from non-communicable diseases to increase by 17% over the next 10 years.

What do Public Health Psychology Professionals Do?

Working in research for nonprofit organizations, universities and the government, public health psychology professionals work with statistics through collecting, analyzing and interpreting large amounts of data. Many are also involved in the writing of research reports and presenting the findings. Public health professionals also work as consultants for government organizations and private industry, or they work in health care administration for hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and public health clinics.

Public health psychology professionals design and promote prevention programs for cardiovascular disease by stressing the prevention of tobacco addiction, for example. They also try to uncover the health-related psychological factors of special populations, such as the health practices of under-educated single pregnant women, or surgical recovery speeds of those from lower socio-economic classes compared to others.

Since chronic diseases affect the world’s economic stability, these professionals also work directly with lawmakers to help write legislation and direct public policy on global, national or community levels.

The challenges policy-makers face include how to address the links between non-communicable diseases and poverty, how to minimize the health and economic losses among the economically active population, and how to prepare for the pressures on health systems resulting from the growing numbers of people with non-communicable diseases,” according to Joy Phumaphi, Vice-President of the Human Development Network of the World Bank.

A bachelors or master’s degree in public health psychology is required to work in this field. Those with a PhD will be qualified for higher-level administration jobs, or careers teaching and conducting research at the university level.

If you enjoy working on health issues directly related to the psychological applications of health, working and leading groups of people, and find personal satisfaction by working to help  at-risk and underserved populations, you should consider a career in Public Health Psychology.

Find out how you can become involved, request information from schools offering Psychology degree programs. Also, learn more about the psychology career licensing processes and what the requirements for licensure are: Psychology Career Licensure.

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