By Amanda Cruz
Most mental health challenges begin early on in life. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 50% of all lifetime mental illnesses start by age 14, and 75% by age 24. Knowing this, we have an obligation to ensure young people have the support they need to cope with mental health conditions.
Prevention and early intervention services are services that focus on reducing the risk of serious mental illness or substance abuse. They aim to intervene at early periods in childhood development so that young people are supported through their mental health challenges and learn how to navigate them on their own. This entails looking out for warning signs of mental health and substance use challenges and acting early before conditions worsen. They are often created to meet the needs of specific communities more at risk of certain adverse health outcomes.
What do prevention and early intervention services look like?
At their core, prevention and early intervention are about getting care to people earlier rather than later. This means implementing services that meet young people where they are. This can be in schools, at home, in their community spaces, and so on. Services can be offered through many different sources including directly through county behavioral health departments or through school-based services.
It could be training parents to look out for warning signs or how to start conversations about mental health with their children. It could also be mental health screenings to help children understand and identify what they’re going through. There are many innovative programs being implemented throughout California, that help youth and their families learn how to communicate about their mental health.
Why should we be focusing on prevention and early intervention?
When interventions aren’t happening the consequences can range from mild to devastating. For some young people, lack of support can lead to unhealthy coping strategies such as isolation or substance abuse. A prolonged lack of treatment can lead to devastating outcomes such as hospitalization or suicidal thoughts. Through implementing prevention and early intervention strategies where young people frequent, communities can stay alert and intervene when young people exhibit mild mental health conditions before they reach a crisis point.
There are many benefits to prevention and early intervention services, but first and foremost is empowering young people and families to lead healthy lives.