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Preventing Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Disorders Among Young People: Progress and Possibilities
Neuroscience has exploded over the last decade or two, across multiple disciplines. There is no shortage of scientists being trained or in early career development stages in neurophysiology, neurogenetics, neurotoxicology, molecular neurosciences, and central nervous system imaging. A substantial number are focusing their efforts on understanding the biology of cognition, emotional responses, brain development, and psychopathology. It is very difficult, however, to identify the array of laboratories that are asking questions about neurobiological systems directly relevant to risk factors or protective factors or to interventions for early symptoms that herald MEB disorders.
Numerous laboratories are identifying genes associated with mental disorders as well as gene–environment interactions and epigenetic mechanisms (see Chapter 5). Predictive and preventive use of genetic information represents an attractive target for basic and translational research. Opportunities to train in these settings are abundant. Similarly, young investigators are training in imaging centers that are attempting to identify structural or functional variations in the brain that predict MEB disorders. The potential for these studies to facilitate prevention in the future is broadly accepted. Ensuring that biological and psychosocial approaches to prevention converge will be an important objective of training (see Chapter 5).
A master of public health (M.P.H.) degree or a doctoral degree (Ph.D., Dr.Ph.) from a school of public health can be an initial step toward a career in prevention science. The published accreditation criteria for schools of public health (Council on Education for Public Health, 2005) list social and behavior sciences as one of five areas of knowledge basic to public health. Often this translates to study of behaviors that influence health-related decisions on a population basis. Prevention components of educational curricula and research programs more often target physical diseases. Some schools of public health do have curricula in mental health epidemiology and programmatically tie such disciplines as epidemiology, economics, and political science to preventive interventions in such content areas as alcohol or tobacco use, adult depression, and child psychopathology (Perry, Albee, et al., 1996). Related areas of training include behavioral science, mental health promotion, and health policy. Although data are not available to allow quantification of the contribution of schools of public health to the workforce related to prevention of MEB disorders, these schools should prepare future leaders in mental health promotion and disorder prevention, whether in research, community services, or administration/policy.