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Harv Rev Psychiatry. 1995 Sep-Oct;3(3):115-29.

Prevention of psychiatric disorders.

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  • 1Alcohol and Drug Abuse Ambulatory Treatment Program, McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA 02178, USA.


Psychiatric disorders are highly prevalent and cause an enormous burden of suffering, loss of productivity, morbidity, and mortality. This article will review prevention of psychiatric disorders in a manner that is relevant to the mental health clinician. Clinicians may increasingly play a role in preventive interventions through (1) identifying individuals at risk, (2) consulting with agencies, school personnel, and employers who may identify individuals at risk, (3) providing treatment that can reduce the chronicity, severity, and total duration of psychiatric illness, and (4) providing mental health care to a specific population within our evolving health care system, in which health promotion and disease prevention play an increasingly important role. Appropriate literature was located by searching the English-language citations since 1985 in Index Medicus (search terms included prevention, preventive psychiatry, early intervention, mental disorders, risk factors, and primary prevention), reviewing several textbooks on psychiatric preventive services, and finding additional sources cited in the reference sections of these publications. This paper presents the public health model of disease prevention, which divides prevention activities into primary, secondary, and tertiary interventions. The model is applied to childhood psychiatric disorders and to adult-onset schizophrenia, depressive disorders, and substance use disorders. The review concludes with a discussion of the implications for the clinician and for public health policy.

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