Prevention and early intervention

A focus on preventing or intervening early in the progression of mental health conditions not only benefits infants and children, but creates a solid foundation for health outcomes later in life, making it a long-term investment in the future of Australian society.

Prevention and early intervention activities can occur early in life and/or early in the progression of a mental health condition. An early-in-life focus on mental health not only benefits children, but creates a solid foundation for outcomes later in life. Wellbeing in childhood is associated with a range of positive outcomes, including higher academic attainment, economic security and improved social relationships1.

Parents and extended family are clearly instrumental in the mental health and wellbeing of infants and children. Factors that have an impact on mental health in childhood often arise from, or are influenced by, family and therefore addressing strengths and vulnerabilities in parents’ lives will also be protective for children.

Prevention of mental health problems refers to interventions that occur before the initial onset of a condition to prevent its development2. Prevention interventions aim to identify and modify factors that are associated with mental health conditions. These factors include perinatal influences; family and other interpersonal relationships; schools and workplaces; sports, social and cultural activities; media influences; and the physical health of individuals and communities.

Early intervention aims to prevent progression from the early signs and symptoms of a mental health condition to a diagnosable condition, and includes interventions that are appropriate for people developing or experiencing the first episode of a mental health condition. Early intervention aims at reducing the impact in terms of duration and damage, and also foster hope for future wellbeing.

The importance of the involvement of services beyond those focused on mental health is critical within a prevention and early intervention approach. This includes health, family and community services, but even more broadly it includes sectors such as sports, arts and business education, labour, justice, transport, environment and housing3. Also important are inter-sectoral strategies, such as those aimed at the socio-economic empowerment of women, violence prevention and poverty reduction, as well as coordinated responses between infant, child, adolescent, adult and aged service providers and systems3.

1. VicHealth, Epidemiological evidence relating to resilience and young people: a literature review. 2015, Melbourne: Victorian Health Promotion Foundation.
2. Mrazek, P.J. and R.J. Haggerty, Reducing Risks for Mental Disorders: Frontiers for Preventive Intervention Research. 1994, Washington DC: National Academy Press.
3. WHO. Mental health: strengthening our response (Fact Sheet). 2016; Available from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs220/en/.