Prevention of Mental Illness

By Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes Published 05/30/2007 | Health

Anyone can have a mental illness, regardless of age, gender, race, or income. Mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or AIDS. It is believed that one in five adults and children has a diagnosable mental disorder, one in every 10 young people age 9 or older has a serious emotional disturbance that severely disrupts daily life.and one in four families will have a member with mental illness. Children who develop depression often have a family history of the illness, many times a parent who had depression at an early age. Untreated mental health problems can lead to suicide, which is the sixth leading cause of death for 5- to 14-year olds. An estimated two-thirds of all young people with mental health problems are not getting the help they need.It is important to remember that mental illness can occur at any age, but most people start experiencing symptoms for the first time between the ages of 25 and 44. With proper treatment, as many as 8 in 10 people suffering from a mental illness can return to normal, productive lives, and almost everyone receives some benefit from treatment.

The causes of mental illness are complicated. Mental health disorders in children and adolescents are caused mostly by biology and environment. Examples of biological causes are genetics, chemical imbalances in the body caused by genetics, lack of sleep or poor nutrition, or damage to the central nervous system, such as a head injury or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Many environmental factors also put young people at risk for  developing mental health disorders. Examples including exposure to environmental toxins, such as high levels of lead; exposure to violence, such as witnessing or being the victim of physical or sexual abuse, being the child of an addict or alcoholic, drive-by shootings, muggings, or other disasters; stress related to chronic poverty, discrimination, or other serious hardships; and the loss of important people through death, divorce, or broken relationships.

The following  preventive services are recommended and can be carried out in a clinic, church, library or local community center:

  1. Prenatal and infancy home visits or support groups.
  2. Targeted cessation education and counseling for smokers, especially those who are pregnant.
  3. Targeted short-term mental health therapy.
  4. Self-care education for adults (i.e. exercise, nutrition, stress management, relationships and finances).
  5. Brief counseling and advice to reduce alcohol use.
  6. Mentoring programs for young children
  7. A variety of adult-supervised after-school and weekend activities