commitment to the investigation of multiple, co-existing risk conditions for mental disorders and the co-morbidity of dysfunctions and disorders, and a willingness to participate in joint projects. Of equal importance would be the commitment of the lead agency to prevention, as distinguished from treatment and maintenance. Because no single agency seems able to accomplish these tasks, the committee concludes that an alternative mechanism is needed so that research and services on prevention of mental disorders can be coordinated across the federal departments.


When President Roosevelt announced in 1937 that “one third of our nation are ill housed, ill clad, ill nourished,” our country was galvanized into action. Yet today, when careful population studies tell us that as many as one third of American adults will suffer a diagnosable mental disorder sometime in their life and that 20 percent have a mental disorder at any given time, there is little alarm. The Institute of Medicine's Committee on Prevention of Mental Disorders believes that strong action is warranted, and with this report it calls on the nation to mount a significant program to prevent mental disorders. Although research on the causes and treatment of mental disorders remains vitally important—and indeed major advances are leading to better lives for increasing numbers of people—much greater effort than ever before needs to be directed to prevention.

Public health experience has shown that when a critical mass of knowledge regarding a specific health problem accumulates and a core group of expert researchers have been identified, the time is ripe for launching a larger, coordinated research and training endeavor. The committee believes that such a moment has arrived for the field of mental health. Opportunities now exist to effectively exploit existing knowledge to launch a promising research agenda on the prevention of mental disorders. Therefore the committee strongly recommends that an enhanced research agenda to prevent mental disorders be initiated and supported across all relevant federal agencies, including, but not limited to, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Justice, Labor, Defense, and Housing and Urban Development, as well as state governments, universities, and private foundations. This agenda should facilitate development in three major areas:

  • Building the infrastructure to coordinate research and service programs and to train and support new investigators.

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