Dr. Kate Mulligan

Professional Biography

Dr. Kate Mulligan is an Assistant Professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, the Director of Policy and Communications at the Alliance for Healthier Communities, and a member of the Toronto Board of Health. She works toward healthier cities and communities through research, mentorship and action on healthy public policy, political ecologies of health and wellbeing, climate and health equity, and upstream health systems interventions including social prescribing.

Learn more at https://www.dlsph.utoronto.ca/faculty…

Reflection Questions

How has isolation affected you during the pandemic? What are some ways you have tried to foster connection?

What ‘social prescriptions’ do you think you might need? Which activities do you love that you haven’t been able to do lately?

Dr. Mulligan proposes that individual health and community health are intertwined. What does this understanding make possible for you and your community?

How would you personally define ‘wellbeing’?

How important is the role of community in your life? What is the nature of that role?

In what ways might listening to our bodies begin to shift our societal structures?

How often do you listen to your body? How does it respond to the things you ask it to do on a daily basis?

In what way do the social components of your life affect your health?

How else might you begin to take charge of your health?

Social Prescribing – Readings and Resources

How can public health talk to politicians? – Watch this panel discussion featuring Dr. Mulligan on how public health practitioners can best communicate with policy makers to inform evidence-based policy

Here are a few resources recommended by Dr. Mulligan:

Shim, R., Koplan, C., Langheim, F.J.P., et. al. (2014). The social determinants of mental health: An overview and call to action. Psychiatric Annals; 44(1): 22-26.

Bhatti S, Rayner J, Pinto AD, Mulligan K, Cole DC. Using self-determination theory to understand the social prescribing process: a qualitative study. BJGP open . 2021 Apr 1;5(2).  https://bjgpopen.org/content/5/2/BJGPO.2020.0153  

Johnson SS, Post SG. Rx It’s good to be good (G2BG) 2017 commentary: Prescribing volunteerism for health, happiness, resilience, and longevity. American Journal of Health Promotion . 2017 Mar. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2017-07807-010  

Rx Community (final report, videos and media):  https://www.allianceon.org/Social-Prescribing  UK National Academy for Social Prescribing   https://socialprescribingacademy.org.uk/  

Introducing Dr. Mulligan

Listen to Dr. Mulligan introduce her work at the University of Toronto and in community health.

The Power of Self-determination in Health Care

Dr. Mulligan explains the overlooked role of social factors when it comes to our health. ‘Social prescribing’ is about getting people involved in social groups to help reconnect them with activities they love and reduce isolation. A key part of this is ‘self-determination’ – listening to the individual to hear what matters most to them, and then helping them meet those goals. When we meet our goals, we feel more competent and more capable of giving back to others, which fosters interrelated wellbeing. 

Building Collective Wellbeing

Dr. Mulligan defines ‘wellbeing’ in contrast to ‘wellness’ as something very broad that encapsulates all facets of our lives. This broadness means that wellbeing is relational, and that self-care and community-care are intertwined. Building the resiliency of our communities is something that we can only do together, and in doing so we also help ourselves. 

The Radical Act of Listening to Our Bodies

Dr. Mulligan explains that our bodies can sense injustice. If we allow people to lead their own healthcare by listening to their bodies, our efforts will be balanced by rejuvenation, giving us the opportunity to build sustainable, healthy communities. Our society is not currently structured to give us time to listen to the body’s needs, retaining its industrial and colonial priorities. So, it is a political act to listen to our bodies and learn about alternative ways of doing things, as it challenges the flaws in our current system. 

Taking Charge of Your Own Health Plan

Dr. Mulligan emphasizes the importance of knowing your life context and community resources before planning your health. It doesn’t all come down to the individual. But at the same time, as individuals we can develop new community initiatives if our communities are unable to meet our needs. It is also important to think of our social lives – eg., being members in university clubs and sports – as part of our health plan.

The Challenges of Social Isolation

Dr. Mulligan discusses the variety of contexts that can make isolation more or less challenging for individuals. While it may be difficult during the pandemic, the most important thing is to prioritize connection with people, even in small ways.