Every day across America, behavioral health problems in childhood and adolescence take a heavy toll on millions of lives. These problems range from anxiety, depression and mental health problems, to poor eating habits and weight problems, to substance abuse, delinquency and violence. For decades the approach to these problems has been to treat them only after they’ve been identified—at a high and ongoing cost to young people, families, communities, and the entire nation. Now we have a 30-year body of research and more than 50 programs showing that behavioral health problems can be prevented.
LifeSkills Training is one such program. LST is a school-based prevention program designed to prevent behavioral health problems by promoting personal coping skills, general social skills, and information and attitudes related to specific health problems, and overall resilience. LST has been extensively tested and proven effective, with evidence of its effectiveness documented in over 32 peer-reviewed publications. This body of research shows that LST can prevent a wide range of behavioral health problems including tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drug abuse; aggression and violence; risky driving; and risk factors related to HIV/AIDS. LST is effective when delivered by different types of program providers, under different implementation conditions, and with different populations and age-groups. And, it produces prevention effects that can last from adolescence to well into young adulthood.
But LST is just one of a growing number of tested and effective programs that have emerged from more than three decades of scientific research. This critical mass of prevention science is converging with growing interest in prevention across health care, education, child psychiatry, child welfare, and juvenile justice. Together, we stand at the threshold of a new age of prevention.
The challenge now is to mobilize across disciplines and communities to unleash the power of prevention on a nationwide scale. A new group of prevention experts, the Coalition for the Promotion Behavioral Health, proposes a grand challenge that will advance the policies, programs, funding, and workforce preparation needed to promote behavioral health and prevent behavioral health problems among all young people—including those at greatest disadvantage or risk, from birth through age 24. Within a decade, we can reduce the incidence and prevalence of behavioral health problems in this population by 20 percent from current levels through widespread policies and programs that will serve millions and save billions. Prevention is the best investment we can make, and the time to make it is now.
Read two recent papers on Unleashing the Power of Prevention, prepared by the Coalition for the Promotion of Behavioral Health and published by the National Academy of Medicine. The first paper, Unleashing the Power of Prevention, is concise summary of the advances in prevention science, examples of successful prevention programs, and opportunities.
The second paper, A Challenge to Unleash the Power of Prevention, is a commentary and call to arms.