Over the last year, we have seen high-profile suicides that have gripped our attention—from Kate Spade to Anthony Bourdain to, most recently, the tragic death of Parkland shooting survivor Sydney Aiello. It is often recognized, correctly, that suicide is highly linked to mental illness, particularly depression. That, in and of itself, is ample reason for us to think carefully about mental illness and its consequences, but before I tackle the issue of suicide, I want to comment, more foundationally, on why mental health should matter and be more central to our attention in health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Yet when we think of health, we tend to prioritize physical well-being at the expense mental health. Instead, we should tackle mental health the same way we tackle physical health—with an eye towards preventing disease by addressing the foundational forces that cause us to be sick or well. We must do so for three key reasons—there are others, of course, but here I focus on three in the interest of making a succinct, and hopefully persuasive, case.

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