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In the name of prevention: Commentaries on ‘Priorities for prevention research at NIMH.’

This issue of Prevention & Treatment offers a special article by National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) staff members, and a set of commentaries by prevention researchers and mental health advocates, on the report “Priorities for Prevention Research at NIMH,” which was written by the National Advisory Mental Health Council (NAMHC) Workgroup on Mental Disorders Prevention Research (2001). The article identifies the opportunities for mental health researchers to take advantage of multiple bridges between treatment and prevention research in study design, identification of target populations, and sequencing of interventions. Ten commentaries by prevention researchers note some strengths in the NIMH report, particularly the concern for community populations, but also identify concerns with the expanded definition of prevention research, which presents scientific and policy difficulties for the field of prevention research. One group of mental health advocates applauds the emphasis on preventive services in the report, whereas another believes only basic research will move the prevention research agenda forward. Great achievements in science policy are a happy combination of enlightened scientific vision and political opportunity. Political support is the engine driving policy acceptance. Scientific vision is the rudder guiding its course. Each is a necessary but not sufficient condition for great scientific achievement and societal benefit. When science policy fails in its aims, it is often for the lack of either scientific insight or political will. All policy statements issued in the hope of influencing scientific inquiry are, of course, mixed cases, and each case must be evaluated on its own merits. This special issue of Prevention & Treatment examines such a case–the report of the National Advisory Mental Health Council (NAMHC) Workgroup on Mental Disorders Prevention Research (2001), “Priorities for Prevention Research at NIMH.” This is the fourth major report on prevention research in mental health issued by a scientific body in the last decade. In 1993, a steering committee appointed by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH; e.g., Reiss et al., 1993) issued “Prevention of Mental Disorders: A National Research Agenda.” This was followed in 1994 by an Institute of Medicine report, “Reducing Risks for Mental Disorders: Frontiers for Prevention Intervention Research” (Mrazek & Haggerty, 1994). A third report, “A Plan for Prevention Research at NIMH,” was published in 1996. Four reports on prevention research in the space of a decade should signal vital new activity in the field. In fact, these reports reflect a continuing debate on the most appropriate direction for prevention research sponsored by the NIMH. In this edition of Prevention & Treatment, the debate continues. The full text of the NIMH report is presented first in this issue and is followed by invited commentaries from a variety of knowledgeable scientists and mental health advocates. We have invited experts in a wide range of fields, including mental health epidemiology, community-based preventive intervention, developmental psychopathology, psychiatry, and mental health economics. We have also invited commentaries from national political advocacy organizations concerned with policies aimed at promoting mental health and serving the mentally ill. Each author has commented thoughtfully on the “Priorities for Prevention Research at NIMH” report, identifying clear strengths as well as shortcomings and missed opportunities. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2007 APA, all rights reserved) (from the journal abstract)