Research Therapies — 24 October 2013

Australian mental health must shift shift away from the “pointy end” of protracted psychiatric conditions and early intervention to prevention, Australian researchers argue.

Recent government-supported efforts to reduce the burden of mental illness including headspace, Better Access and ATAPS have done nothing to reduce its prevalence, wrote Professor Anthony Jorm and research Fellow Nicola Reavley Melbourne at the School of Population and Global health, University of Melbourne in this week’s MJA. bigstockphoto_Mindfulness_1686658

It’s time to focus on reducing the incidence of mental illness before it takes root, they say.

Commenting on the article in MJA Insight, Professor Helen Christensen executive director at the Black Dog Institute said there was a misunderstanding about the difference between the prevention of mental health disorders and early intervention approaches.

“I think people don’t understand what prevention is … it’s not early intervention. Prevention is intervening before anyone develops any symptoms,” Professor Christensen said.

“It’s about mental health awareness, including literacy of the population — targeted interventions and specific programs for specific diagnoses at a particular time in the life cycle.”

“[It’s time] we [refocused our attention] from the pointy end of hospital beds and into prevention,” she said.

The approach is supported by a recent national survey headed by Professor Christensen, which found the gap between mental health-related research funding and the priorities of patients, carers and practitioners and policymakers was most pronounced when it came to prevention and promotion.

Funding for preventing mental illness and promoting awareness has seen its funding take a dive over the past ten years, despite being the top-ranked priority of stakeholders, found the survey published in the ANZJP earlier this year.

But Jorm and Reavley have not despaired. They pointed  to research  presented at a recent national health symposium on the prevention of mental health, which found prevention initiatives were effectively combating common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.

The interventions included parenting and school-based programs, CBT, targeting job stress, psychosocial and web-based programs, though more research is needed to determine what technique will be most effective for who, they wrote.

Integrating mental health strategies into physical health strategies, particularly chronic disease management was also a promising route to prevention, they added.

This article first appeared on Psychiatry Update on 22 October, 2013.


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