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 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.