Preventing mental disorders – from the workplace to pregnancy, how can new policies and interventions influence mental health?

workplace depression
Interventions in the workplace are covered by a systematic review in the new collection

As BMC Medicine and BMC Psychiatry launch a new article collection on the prevention of mental disorders,  Ursula D’Souza, Senior Editor of BMC Medicine and Alice Murray, Executive Editor of BMC Psychiatry, look at some of the new research shaping our thinking on mental health.

Today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness week in the UK, an initiative which helps to raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing issues. The global burden of mental disorders presents a growing challenge for health systems, and shows the need to make prevention of these conditions a public health priority.

To achieve this the World Health Organization and National Institute of Mental Health have established strategic prevention programs, with reports published based on interventions and policy options and in younger at risk populations.

The recently established Alliance for the Prevention of Mental Disorders (APMD) seeks to support a population health approach for the prevention of mental disorders. They plan to do this through a combination of advocacy, the facilitation of research, and the strengthening of knowledge translation and exchange between researchers and policy makers.

One of the outcomes of the APMD initiative is the launch of our cross-journal article collection in BMC Medicine and BMC Psychiatry, on the prevention of mental disorders. The collection is guest edited by Felice Jacka who is the President of the Alliance.

Felice Jacka
Felice Jacka, guest editor of the collection

In an editorial to summarize the series Felice Jacka and Nicola Reavley (Vice President of APMD) outline the evidence, opportunities and targets for prevention interventions in the workplace, in early life and at a population level.  We take a look at some of the  articles on these topics below.

“The case for the cost-effectiveness of preventing mental disorders needs to be strongly argued and new cross-disciplinary, intersectoral initiatives and policies developed for the prevention of mental disorders across the lifespan.” – Felice Jacka and Nicola Reavley


Interventions in the workplace

Workplace mental health problems are becoming an increasing concern in today’s society. Major depression and anxiety disorders are impacting workers, organizations and compensation authorities.

Therefore , addressing mental health problems and improving wellbeing in the workplace is vital. In a systematic review published on Friday, Samuel Harvey and colleagues show that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can reduce the level of depressive symptoms among workers. The accompanying blog post from Mind (a UK mental health charity) looks at this review and discusses some of the other options for employers to help their employees.

Continuing on the theme of workplace mental health, a debate article by Anthony LaMontagne and colleagues argues for the importance of integrating public health, medicine and psychological approaches to help prevent and manage mental health problems at work. The authors discuss the importance of reducing work-related risk factors such as job stress, as well as promoting the use of positive psychology within the workplace to enhance wellbeing and provide a supportive working environment.  

Pregnancy and childhood


A pregnant woman
Pregnancy exposures can affect the mental health of the child

Strategies inspired by the ‘developmental origins of health and disease’ model, which focus on early life, are another element to current thinking in mental disorder prevention. The first few years of life are known to play a critical role in determining mental health and wellbeing in later life.

In a review, Andrew Lewis and colleagues look at pregnancy exposures that affect child and adolescent mental disorders. They recommend that interventions should aim to reduce exposure to environmental toxins, illicit drugs, smoking, alcohol and poor diets in preconception and perinatal periods to optimize the mental health of the children.

“Effective strategies would therefore be anticipated to combine targeted interventions within pregnancy care, with broader interventions that will reach all women of child-bearing age.”

The problems with an unhealthy diet

Diet is an important topic to address in mental health and it’s known that an unhealthy diet is a key risk factor for common mental disorders like depression and anxiety. Unhealthy dietary habits, are partly driven by substantial changes to global food systems, and recognized as major contributors to many of the common non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

To elaborate on these topics further Felice Jacka and colleagues discuss the need to integrate physical and mental health promotion and prevention initiatives, with a focus on improving the food environment through policy action.

Overall, there is clearly a need for wide-ranging policies on the prevention of mental disorders. Our new article collection aims to provide guidance for policymakers and other stakeholders on the implementation of evidence-based strategies to help reduce the burden of disease related to mental disorders.

All articles in this cross-journal collection have been independently prepared by the authors and have been subject to the standard peer-review processes of the journals.

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