Prevention of common mental disorders: What can we learn from those who have gone before and where do we go next?


Objective: Prevention strategies have made a major contribution to the considerable successes in reductions in cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality seen in recent decades. However, in the field of psychiatry, similar population-level initiatives in the prevention of common mental disorders, depression and anxiety, are noticeably lacking. This paper aims to provide a brief overview of the existing literature on the topic of the prevention of common mental disorders and a commentary regarding the way forward for prevention research and implementation.

Methods This commentary considers what we currently know, what we might learn from the successes and failures of those working in prevention of other high prevalence health conditions, and where we might go from here. Taking cognisance of previous preventive models, this commentary additionally explores new opportunities for preventive approaches to the common mental disorders.

Results The consensus from a large body of evidence supports the contention that interventions to prevent mental disorders across the lifespan can be both effective and cost-effective. However, funding for research in the area of prevention of common mental disorders is considerably lower than that for research in the areas of treatment, epidemiology and neurobiology. Thus, there is a clear imperative to direct funding towards prevention research to redress this imbalance. Future prevention interventions need to be methodologically rigorous, scalable to the population level and include economic evaluation. Evidence-based knowledge translation strategies should be developed to ensure that all stakeholders recognise preventing mental disorders as an imperative, with appropriate resources directed to this objective.

Conclusion There has been a recent expansion of research into potentially modifiable risk factors for depression, and it is now timely to make a concerted effort to advance the field of prevention of common mental disorders.

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