We know that anxiety and depression is very common in young people. Research tells us that around one in five young people will experience anxiety or depression by the time they hit adulthood (Merry et al., 2011). Research also tells us that those who suffer at this time are at a heightened risk for drug and alcohol abuse, risky sexual behaviour, suicide, poor academic outcomes and developing physical health problems (Donovan and Spence, 2000). The unfortunate reality is that anxiety and depression tends to run a chronic and recurring course, posing a significant public health burden.
Preventing the onset of anxiety and depression would be an important advance in public health
Given that anxiety typically precedes the onset of depression in youth (Merikangas, Nakamura, & Kessler, 2009), preventative mental health programs delivered in childhood might impact anxiety and depressive symptoms before they get worse.
Prevention programs come with several advantages
They can be universal. This means, the programs are delivered to all people within an identified population regardless of risk. For example, a school study by Neil and Christensen (2009) saw the delivery of a universal prevention program to every child in a year group.
Prevention programs can also be targeted. This means, they are directed towards people who have an increased risk for developing a mental disorder. For example, people with sub-clinical symptoms of depression (Muñoz et al., 2010).
Preventing the incidence altogether
In some cases, preventative programs can prevent the incidence of a mental disorder occurring altogether. In other cases where the disorder cannot be prevented, these programs can delay the onset of clinically significant symptoms. A review of prevention studies targeting populations at varying levels of risk concluded that the use of preventative cognitive-behavioural interventions were very promising (Bienvenu and Ginsburg, 2007). How might the widespread use of these programs reduce disability and service use in the future?
Early intervention is key
What if an individual is given the opportunity to learn strategies to prevent and anxiety and depression at a time where they may be more receptive to behaviour change? What if this learning took place before rigid patterns of cognition and behaviour have already been established? A study looking at the prevention of childhood anxiety disorders revealed that a failure to respond to treatment was often a consequence of established patterns of behaviour which was difficult to reverse (Donovan and Spence, 2000).
Unfortunately, many young people who are at the point where they need mental health treatment services are unable to access or do not access these services. A systematic review of the perceived barriers to mental health help seeking in young people revealed the most important barriers – the perceived stigma and embarrassment, problems recognising the symptoms and a preference for self-reliance (Gulliver, Griffiths, and Christensen, 2010)
Perhaps taking a more preventative approach can alleviate these barriers too.
Resilience Kit delivers FRIENDS Resilience – a set Programs which aim to prevent anxiety and depression across the lifespan. The Programs for children are delivered by psychologists trained by Resilience Kit when run in parallel with the Parenting Strategies and Adult Resilience Program for parents and caregivers.
Fun FRIENDS | Ages 4 – 7
FRIENDS for Life | Ages 8 – 10
My FRIENDS Youth | Ages 11 – 15
Bienvenu, O. J., & Ginsburg, G. S. (2007). Prevention of anxiety disorders. International Review of Psychiatry, 19, 647–654.
Donovan, C. L., & Spence, S. H. (2000). Prevention of childhood anxiety disorders. Clinical Psychology Review, 20, 509–531
Gulliver, A., Griffiths, K. M., & and Christensen, H. (2010). Perceived barriers and facilitators to mental health help-seeking in young people: a systematic review. BioMedCentral Psychiatry, 10(113),
Merikangas, K. R., Nakamura, E. F., & Kessler, R. C. (2009). Epidemiology of mental disorders in children and adolescents. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 11, 7–20
Merry, S. N., Hetrick, S. E., Cox, G. R., Brudevold-Iversen, T., Bir, J. J., & McDowell, H. (2011). Psychological and educational interventions for preventing depression in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Cd003380
Muñoz, R. F., Cuijpers, P., Smit, F., Barrera, A. Z., & Leykin, Y. (2010). Prevention of major depression. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 6, 181–212.