Depression is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions in the world. Major depressive disorder (MDD) impairs an individual’s ability to function on many levels. The emotional dysfunction that occurs as a result of MDD can negatively impact professional and personal relationships and can have serious effects on the well-being of those living with the depressed individual. Social resources are available for people experiencing depression. But financial limitations and geographical obstacles often limit the access to these invaluable resources. The Institute of Medicine issued a report in 2009 that suggested that depression can actually be prevented. Ricardo F. Munoz of the Department of Psychiatry at San Francisco General Hospital at the University of California recently addressed this theory in a recently published paper.
Munoz believes that there are many ways to minimize the risk for a major depressive episode (MDE). Doing so could lead to the delay or avoidance of MDD altogether. However, Munoz also believes that prevention entails many phases. For instance, prevention efforts should begin prior to onset of MDE with educational strategies that teach high-risk individuals how to cope with stressful life events. Adolescents facing major transitions need different coping tools than people who are dealing with MDE from posttraumatic stress. Identifying needs and designing prevention programs to address those specific needs could allow educators, clinicians, and counselors to deliver essential information to people before they experience an MDE.
The other key aspects of overall prevention include treatment and maintenance. Treatment takes place after MDD occurs and can decrease symptom severity and prevent future episodes. Maintenance is vital to ensuring that clients continue to practice the steps necessary to maintain mental well-being. Munoz likens the prevention of MDD to the prevention of the flu. A vaccine is available for those most at risk (prevention), treatment in the form of external and internal remedies are required to minimize the symptoms of the flu (treatment), and instructions for healthy living are given in order to prevent future infections (maintenance). Munoz also emphasizes that MDD is a global concern that must be fought on a local scale. He added, “Creating interventions that address the major contributors to the global burden of disease, starting in one’s own community, is very important.”
Munoz, R. F., Beardslee, W. R., Leykin, Y. (2012). Major depression can be prevented. American Psychologist 67.4: 285-295.
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