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Preventing Child and Adolescent Mental Illness - We Got This


Margaret McDonald* and Jess Shatkin   Pages 1 - 20 ( 20 )


Background: International data indicates that up to 20% of the world’s children and adolescents have at least one mental health disorder. In the United States, nearly 50% of teenagers meet DSM criteria for a psychiatric disorder, and over 25% suffer from a “severe disorder.” Mental health and substance use disorders remain two of the greatest contributors to the global disease burden. Typically, mental health professionals are not trained for prevention; however, over the past 50 years, the field of psychiatry has identified many practices that prevent and limit the severity of psychiatric disorders.

Objectives: In this overview, we first address the great degree of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral suffering that children and adolescents face world-wide. We then describe how a health promotion/disease prevention model differs from a typical mental health care. Finally, we describe a series of interventions at the individual, community, and societal levels that can be utilized to prevent and lessen the burden of mental illness.

Conclusion: Given our enhanced understanding of the prevalence of mental illness, the degree to which it interferes with healthy functioning, and the enormous global burden it causes, now is the time to engage psychiatrists and psychologists in health promotion and disease prevention. The field of psychiatry should begin to focus on designing and implementing mental health promotion and disease prevention programs, akin to those described here, to combat the onset, development, and progression of mental illness.


Adolescent mental health, prevention, health promotion


New York University, School of Medicine, NYU, School of Medicine

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