Prevention of mental disorders and mental health promotion(TWG)

Mission statement/aims

A major barrier to improving outcomes of mental disorders is that once the onset of the disorder has begun, there are limited treatment possibilities and even fewer possibilities to alter their course. Thus, prevention of mental disorders is the most promising way to reduce the high personal, familial, societal, clinical and economic costs of mental disorders in Europe and worldwide.

Recently, preventative paradigms have focused on primary prevention. This includes indicated primary prevention in individuals presenting with subtle symptoms, such as those at clinical high risk for psychosis or those at risk for bipolar disorders, depression or anxiety disorders. Complementary emerging approaches include selective primary prevention, targeting asymptomatic individuals with specific risk factors for mental disorders, and universal primary prevention, which can be applied at scale in the general population. Primary interventions for mental disorders are embedded in a clinical staging and transdiagnostic model and are ageless, encompassing the perinatal period, the post-natal period, childhood, adolescence and early adulthood.

Other preventive paradigms in psychiatry, which have received substantial empirical validation are the secondary prevention of relapses and tertiary prevention of chronicity; these paradigms can further be employed in later adulthood.

Over the past decade, several European research sites have produced accumulating evidence in this field, generating an unexploited collaborative potential to foster breakthrough disease-modifying preventive research.

A parallel line of evidence has clearly shown that effective interventions in this area should not only prevent mental ill health, but also aim at the promotion of good mental health. Whilst there is an undoubtable degree of overlap between prevention of mental disorders and mental health promotion, the latter has remained on the margins in Europe, mostly because of heterogeneous assessment and outcome measures and lack of robustly validated interventional frameworks for clinical practice.

The European Commission has strongly supported research in these two areas, notably across all ages and across different types of mental disorders, and additional programmes of research are expected.
However, there is no European research consortium currently on-going that has adopted an ageless, clinical staging model across different clinical conditions, and which is focused on preventive treatments for mental disorders and on mental health promotion.

The ECNP Thematic working group (TWG) on “Prevention of mental disorders and mental health promotion” (PMD-MHP), addresses these gaps in knowledge and is highly strategic for the ECNP, as it aligns with the European Commission’s ROAMER (A Roadmap for Mental Health Research in Europe). The PMD-MHP ’s approach will also facilitate its integration with the of the other existing ECNP Networks. The PMD-MHP is highly multidisciplinary, including basic researchers, psychiatrists, psychologists and neuroscientists. Further multidisciplinary collaborations have been established with industrial agencies and charities. Its European sites are centres of excellence in the prevention of mental disorders and promotion of mental health.

The goals of the TWG are:

  1. Facilitate multidisciplinary collaboration, knowledge and data sharing building on existing ECNP Networks to support innovative translational research, from basic to clinical and public health research, for the benefit of patients, focusing on the transdiagnostic disease-modifying prevention of mental disorders.
  2. Standardise core assessment, outcome measures and interventional research strategies for the promotion of mental health in Europe.
  3. Promote clinical research partnerships across disciplines and sectors, including public-private partnerships, in particular with pharmaceutical industries, charities and the public.
  4. Apply for European grant funding and produce research reports to disseminate the findings of the PMD-MHP Network in international journals.

Chair of the PMD-MHP TWG is Prof. Dr. Paolo Fusar-Poli, MD, PhD, Reader in Psychiatry & Youth Mental Health at Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s college of London (UK) and Associate professor of Psychiatry at the Brain and Behavioral Sciences Department, University of Pavia (Italy).