Understanding prevention and promotion

Prevention and promotion approaches provide an opportunity for meaningful partnerships and meaningful involvement from the whole of society.

What is the prevention of mental ill-health?

Prevention initiatives focus on reducing risk factors for mental ill-health and enhancing protective factors.

Risk factors increase the likelihood that mental health problems and illnesses will occur, or can make existing issues more severe or long-lasting. Protective factors enhance and protect mental health, and reduce the likelihood that mental ill-health will occur.

Risk and protective factors occur within the context of everyday life (such as homes, schools, workplaces, social and cultural activities, the media, the community and within health and other services). This means that prevention initiatives must take place across a range of settings and involve contributions from many different sectors and organisations.

Types of prevention activity

Primary prevention

Initiatives and strategies to prevent the onset or development of mental ill-health. These interventions may target:

  • the whole community (universal)
  • particular groups known to be at higher risk (selected)
  • individuals at very high risk who may be showing early signs of mental ill-health (indicated).
Secondary prevention

Initiatives and strategies to lower the severity and duration of an illness through early intervention*, including early detection and early treatment. These interventions can occur at any stage of life, from childhood to older age.

Tertiary prevention

Interventions and strategies to reduce the impact of mental ill-health on a person's life through approaches such as rehabilitation and relapse prevention. It also includes actions to ensure people have access to support within the community, such as housing, employment, physical health care and social engagement.

*Early intervention includes initiatives that are appropriate for, and specifically target, people displaying the early signs of mental ill-health. By definition, early intervention is a form of prevention activity and overlaps with both primary and secondary prevention.

What is the promotion of mental health and wellbeing?

The promotion of mental health and wellbeing (often called mental health promotion) focuses on increasing social and emotional wellbeing and quality of life. Initiatives can target entire populations, groups of people or individuals, and can occur in any setting. It applies to all people, including those currently experiencing or recovering from a diagnosed mental illness.

Types of promotion activity

The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion provides a good overview of the range of relevant activities. Some examples of mental health-related strategies include:

Building healthy public policy

Examples include stigma reduction, social inclusion, human rights, crime prevention, access to transport and other services.

Creating supportive environments

Examples include anti-bullying programs in schools and workplaces, strengthening families, mentoring and peer support for young people, supported accommodation, peer support for people with mental illness, supporting people with mental illness to return to work or the workforce.

Strengthening communities to take action

Examples include community-based suicide prevention, drought support in rural areas, consumer-led initiatives and consumer advocacy.

Developing personal skills

Examples include life skills training, mental health and illness literacy, parenting skills, management of emotions and workplace training.

Reorienting services

Examples include services that take a prevention approach to working, those that promote recovery and respond in a timely, age appropriate and culturally appropriate way.

Featured resource

Prevention First

Prevention First

Prevention First is a plain language document that provides a new national framework for strategic action to prevent mental ill-health and promote mental health and wellbeing.

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