BOX 3-1Definitions of Promotion and Prevention Interventions

Mental health promotion interventions: Usually targeted to the general public or a whole population. Interventions aim to enhance individuals’ ability to achieve developmentally appropriate tasks (competence) and a positive sense of self-esteem, mastery, well-being, and social inclusion, and strengthen their ability to cope with adversity.

Example: Programs based in schools, community centers, or other community-based settings that promote emotional and social competence through activities emphasizing self-control and problem solving.

Universal preventive interventions: Targeted to the general public or a whole population that has not been identified on the basis of individual risk. The intervention is desirable for everyone in that group. Universal interventions have advantages when their costs per individual are low, the intervention is effective and acceptable to the population, and there is a low risk from the intervention.

Example: School-based programs offered to all children to teach social and emotional skills or to avoid substance abuse. Programs offered to all parents of sixth graders to provide them with skills to communicate to their children about resisting substance use.

Selective preventive interventions: Targeted to individuals or a population subgroup whose risk of developing mental disorders is significantly higher than average. The risk may be imminent or it may be a lifetime risk. Risk groups may be identified on the basis of biological, psychological, or social risk factors that are known to be associated with the onset of a mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder. Selective interventions are most appropriate if their cost is moderate and if the risk of negative effects is minimal or nonexistent.

Example: Programs offered to children exposed to risk factors, such as parental divorce, parental mental illness, death of a close relative, or abuse, to reduce risk for adverse mental, emotional, and behavioral outcomes.

Indicated preventive interventions: Targeted to high-risk individuals who are identified as having minimal but detectable signs or symptoms foreshadowing mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder, or biological markers indicating predisposition for such a disorder, but who do not meet diagnostic levels at the current time. Indicated interventions might be reasonable even if intervention costs are high and even if the intervention entails some risk.

Example: Interventions for children with early problems of aggression or elevated symptoms of depression or anxiety.

From: 3, Defining the Scope of Prevention

Cover of Preventing Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Disorders Among Young People
Preventing Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Disorders Among Young People: Progress and Possibilities.
National Research Council (US) and Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on the Prevention of Mental Disorders and Substance Abuse Among Children, Youth, and Young Adults: Research Advances and Promising Interventions; O'Connell ME, Boat T, Warner KE, editors.
Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2009.
Copyright © 2009, National Academy of Sciences.

NCBI Bookshelf. A service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.