One of the mental health advocacy movement’s most inspiring leaders is former US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy. During his tenure as Surgeon General, Dr. Murthy emphasized the need for a more comprehensive, compassionate model of care in the United States.
Dr. Murthy summarized his holistic vision of health when we saw him speak at the annual conference of the National Council for Behavioral Health in April: “We don’t just want to eradicate illness. We want people to achieve their full potential.”
The actions he took while serving as Surgeon General were deeply informed by his experience of traveling around the country, visiting communities and meeting with individuals and families in order to better understand the health challenges and realities we face. What he saw reinforced his belief that we must prioritize emotional health and rely more heavily on prevention, which he says is “cost effective and under-utilized.” While Dr. Murthy was asked to leave his post by the current administration earlier this year, he continues to be an outspoken advocate for health reform and particularly for changing the system to better serve those with mental health and substance use issues.
Recently, Dr. Murthy has been speaking out about opioid addiction — which he calls “the defining public health challenge of our time” — and about the potentially disastrous consequences of passing the AHCA. In addition to leaving 23 million people without insurance coverage — including millions living with substance use disorders — Dr. Murthy also points out that even for those who’d keep their insurance, the AHCA would allow insurers to, once again, opt out of covering costs for substance use treatment. As he says, this would lead to “more lives lost, more communities torn apart.”
Dr. Murthy is a leader on this issue. He clearly understands that physical health and brain health are not separate. He has argued that until we begin addressing some of the root causes of the public health epidemics we face — obesity, addiction, and others — we are not only failing to use resources effectively, we are failing individuals and families. While it was a great loss and disappointment to the mental health advocacy community that Dr. Murthy was dismissed before his term was finished, we are grateful that he’s continuing to advocate for optimal health for all.
Moving others to action is the sign of a truly effective leader and advocate. Dr. Murthy is one of our most inspiring Flawless visionaries and a few months ago we had the chance to speak with a couple of his colleagues, who shared how he has influenced them and continues to inspire them. We all can follow Dr. Murthy’s lead and participate in building a healthier nation. As he has said himself, “We forget some of the oldest medicines we have are love and compassion, and they can be deployed by everyone.” We can build communities of support, and use basic kindness and generosity to bring hope to people’s lives. Most importantly, we can recognize and embrace that we are all, in Dr. Murthy’s words, “responsible for each other.”