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The American Heritage Medical dictionary (Website one, 2007) defines community psychology (CP) as “the application of psychology to community programs for the prevention of mental health disorders and the promotion of mental health. ” Public health (PH) on the other hand is defined as “the science and practice of protecting and improving the health of a community as by preventative medicine; health education; control of communicable diseases; application of sanitary measures and monitoring of environmental hazards (website two, 2007). ”Both approaches have its own merits that set it apart from the other and similarities that provide common ground from which both can work in tandem.

It is the aim of this assignment to compare and contrast CP to PH approach in terms of social problems. Firstly, by providing the premise from which each operates. Secondly, by providing the differences and similarities between these two approaches it is my objective that the strengths and weaknesses of each approach will be revealed.

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Premise of CP and PH Within CP there are four models of classification, two of which are mentioned here.The Mental Health model sets its focus on “prevention, immunization against risk for mental health illness and skills enhancement. ” Social Action model focuses on the “political mobilization and socio-economic” equality that is believed to be essential for good prosocial health (Tutorial letter 102, 2012, p. 6). Although there are four classifications for PH they are not separate models.

Rather each is expanded and improved from the last in principles and practices. An evolution in terms of identifying and delivering on the needs of the community, the current evolution is named the socio-ecological model.This is based on a “holistic understanding (tutorial letter 102, 2012, p. 11),” whereby it takes into consideration the social and ecological influences that play an important role in shaping behaviours and principles of the community and individuals. Differences and similarities between CP and PH According to Seedat, Cloete and Shochet (1988) CP is unable to provide any theory on the origin and development of mental illness. CP understands mental illness as being a social problem rather than a mental problem.

PH on the other hand uses a multi-factorial approach.Gilbert (1995) states that this approach takes all variables and contributing factors into account, it also looks at the interdependence between these variables and factors. Gilbert (1995) further states that physical and biological factors work with other factors that occur psychologically, socially and environmentally.

In understanding both approaches it is understood that CP has a focus on social change, while PH has a focus on dealing with social problems. CP involves theory and social research that are not easily translatable into realistic goals and PH always involves concrete objectives that easily form realistic goals.Although CP and PH have different streams of thinking there are similarities between these two approaches. In a study of both Seedat et al (1988) and Gilbert (1995) the following similarities were established, both approaches require active participation by the community members, both seek to promote positive mental health and emphasis prevention. Skills development within the community is fundamental within both approaches. CP and PH both involve natural care-givers of the community to implement the action of each approach, taking into consideration the traditions and beliefs held by the community.According to Seedat et al (1988) CP aims to strengthen resources within the community in order to prevent mental illness and thereby building up resilience within the community that would withstand any future challenges that the community may face. It is further stated that prevention within CP has three levels to prevention: primary, secondary and tertiary; which looks at groups at high risk for mental illness, identifying and treating mental illness at the earliest and to minimize the disability caused by providing adequate aftercare, respectively.

This creates a safety net for those affected by mental illness.Gilbert (1995) states that a central aim of PH is to change human behaviour, PH looks at health problems in context of the affected community, namely the behavioral and social context. PH also looks at the effects of social and environmental factors and it understands that government needs to play a role in solving the public health problem. Gilbert (1995) further states that due to the number of incurable diseases that affect our communities, diseases such as HIV/AIDS, cholera and cancer, there has been a movement towards prevention and the promotion of good health.

Examples of this could be the HIVictory campaign that uses media to educate and inform or the distribution of free choice condoms to the community to make it easily assessable to individuals. Conclusion Both approaches has its limitations, as with all things, but these two approaches have the ability to lend itself to each other and create a unified approach that could really create a movement that could successfully tackle the problems that plague mental health in our communities.With the understanding that PH has of the origin and development of mental illness and the use of the multi-factorial approach, understanding mental illness in a holistic manner will allow an appropriate intervention to be created. The three levels of prevention laid out in CP could be successful with proper and appropriate implementation in the treatment and prevention of illness within the community. PH understands that the mindset and behaviour of the community needs to change and with its forthright manner in dealing with social problems in a practical manner; putting into action a prevention and treatment campaign would be more likely met with success.


  1. Gilbert, L.

    (1995). Sociology and the ‘New Public Health’ in South Africa. New Perspectives in Community Psychology. Reader for PYC4811. (2012), 74-83.

  2. Seedat, M. , Cloete, N. , Shochet, I. (1988). Community Psychology: panic or panacea.

    New Perspectives in Community Psychology. Reader for PYC4811. (2012), 218-233.

  3. Tutorial Letter 102, PYC4811 (2012). Department of Psychology, University of South Africa, Pretoria.

  4. Website one: The free dictionary. The American Heritage Medical dictionary. (2007). Houghton Mittin Company.

    Accessed: 10/04/2012, 9:45pm. Web Address: http://medical-dictionary. thefreedictionary. com/community+psychology

  5. Website two: The free dictionary. The American Heritage Medical dictionary.

    (2007). Houghton Mittin Company. Accessed: 10/04/2012, 9:50pm Web Address: http://medical-dictionary. thefreedictionary.


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