Factors Perceived as Influencing Local Health Department Involvement in Mental Health

Published:November 02, 2016DOI:


      Local health departments (LHDs) are potentially well positioned to implement population-based approaches to mental health promotion, but research indicates that most LHDs are not substantively engaged in activities to address mental health. Little is known about factors that influence if and how LHDs address population mental health. The objectives of this qualitative study were to (1) understand how LHD officials perceive population mental health; (2) identify factors that influence these perceptions and LHD activities to address population mental health; and (3) develop an empirically derived conceptual framework of LHD engagement in population mental health.


      Twenty-one semi-structured interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of LHD officials and analyzed using thematic content analysis in 2014–2015. Transcripts were double coded, inter-rater reliability statistics were calculated, and categories with κ ≥0.60 were retained.


      Respondents perceived mental health as a public health issue and expressed that it has emerged as a priority through community health needs assessment processes, such as those conducted for health department accreditation. However, most LHDs were not substantively engaged in population mental health activities because of limited resources, knowledge, data, and hesitancy to infringe upon the territory of local behavioral health agencies. LHDs and local behavioral health agencies had difficulty communicating and collaborating because of divergent perspectives and financing arrangements.


      LHD officials are eager to embrace population mental health, but resources, training and education, and systems-level changes are needed. Contemporary reforms to the structure and financing of the U.S. health system offer opportunities to address these challenges.
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