3 Important Issues Health Educators Are Helping to Address

Health educators help teach the public about the issues impacting our local and global communities, particularly ways to prevent or reduce health problems and how to seek treatment. Here are three major issues poised to challenge these professionals in the coming years. Behavioral Health and Addiction Opioid abuse is devastating communities across the globe. According […]

To Put This in Context:

New health concerns are constantly arising, leaving educators in the field with their hands full. In the past decade, health educators have had to research and inform others about such conditions as cholera in Haiti, Ebola in West Africa, vaccine skepticism, and rising teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. These and other health emergencies need experts, and a degree in health education can prepare you to answer the challenge.

Health educators help teach the public about the issues impacting our local and global communities, particularly ways to prevent or reduce health problems and how to seek treatment. Here are three major issues poised to challenge these professionals in the coming years.

Behavioral Health and Addiction

A person getting ready to take a handful of various medications.

Opioid abuse is devastating communities across the globe. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, drug overdoses were the leading cause of accidental deaths in 2015 in the U.S., costing more than 55,000 lives. [1] The majority of these were a result of opioids, with approximately 20,000 people dying after a prescription painkiller overdose, and nearly 13,000 people losing their lives to heroin.

Contributing to the opioid epidemic’s prevalence is the fact that doctors now write more prescriptions for painkillers than ever before. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 650,000 opioid prescriptions are written each day. [2]

This epidemic’s consequences are devastating. According to a report from CNN, at least seven people in a single Ohio county died from drug overdoses in one day. [3] Chris Harris, communications specialist for the Cuyahoga County medical examiner’s office, said 52 county residents died from drug overdoses in August 2016. He expected the total number of opioid overdose deaths to reach 500 by the end of the year.

Health educators across America are vital in educating physicians about the dangers of overprescribing opioids, especially at national organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For example, CDC experts called for doctors to be more selective when prescribing painkillers for issues not related to cancer. [4] Concern for the misuse of painkillers can also be addressed in a local level, and there are careers in the field of social work that help to teach the public about the abuse of these and other prescription medications, and provide resources for those in need to combat their struggle with dependence.

Did You Know?

The CDC’s latest guidelines include recommending physicians try non-opioid therapy first, prescribe immediate-release drugs as opposed to extended-release or long-acting options, and start with lower dosages. [4]

A woman suffering from depression seeks treatment from a therapist.

Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the U.S., and rates appear to be on the rise. An article from the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed the use of antidepressants rose from 7% of Americans in 1999 to 13% in 2010. [5] Additionally, according to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 16.1 million American adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2015. [6]

Despite these rising rates, there are many misconceptions about depression that lead people to underestimate its effects. Many still equate depression to sadness or view it as a sign of weakness, not as a medical condition that can severely impact a person’s quality of life. What’s more, few people understand the benefits of treating depression. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has reported that “serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.” [7]

Unfortunately, most governments only spend about 3% of their health care budget on mental health services — but this is where health educators can help. Their expertise and advocacy are necessary to help shape public policies that dispel myths about depression and provide greater community support. Their roles at national organizations like NAMI, as well as in positions of public service and public education in local communities, can also go a long way in identifying issues earlier, helping those afflicted find the proper treatment, and educating families and loved ones about how to support patients’ needs at home or in school.

Did You Know?

According to NAMI, mortality rates are 25 years lower for American adults affected by mental illness. [7]

 A student suffers from stress and anxiety over his large amount of coursework.

There’s a sentiment among older generations that millennials lack a work ethic and are generally lazy. Consult an average person 18 to 35 years old, however, and he or she will likely admit to feeling stressed and anxious. There are numerous factors contributing to millennial anxiety, some of which stem from a bleak economic outlook, rising health care and tuition costs, and diminishing work-life balance. Additionally, although millennials are more accepting of their own mental health issues than previous generations, they must still make their way in a world where depression and anxiety remain highly stigmatized.

Even teenagers feel the pressure these days. According to a 2013 survey from the American Psychological Association, teens report stronger feelings of stress than adults. [8] However, they’re less likely to say that stress impacts them mentally and physically.

“It is alarming that the teen stress experience is so similar to that of adults,” Norman Anderson, CEO and executive vice president of the APA, said of the report. “It is even more concerning that they seem to underestimate the potential impact that stress has on their physical and mental health.”

Health educators have begun to address millennial anxiety in the workplace. More businesses are seeking qualified professionals to design business practices that support mental health among employees of all ages. Health educators can further expand these efforts into schools and local communities.

Did You Know?

A number of reasons have been posited as to why millennials are anxious. As reported in New York magazine, one possibility is isolation. Millennials grew up in smaller families with less direct human contact, especially when compared to older relatives who lived in packed houses with multiple generations. [9]

Health Educators Poised to Make an Impact

These issues point to the changing landscape of health education and explain why such educators are more necessary than ever. If you are passionate about making a difference in these rising rates of addiction, depression and anxiety, as well as emerging health threats, consider getting an advanced health education degree. It can equip you with the tools, skills, and resources necessary to improve public awareness and campaign for better physical and mental health standards.


We're academics. Education is at our core. It drives everything we do. In fact, we can trace our roots in education as far back as the 1700s. In the past decade alone, we have impacted hundreds of thousands of lives by connecting students with the right degree programs.