Editorial: ‘The early bird catches the worm’—the need for even earlier intervention and targeted prevention for mental illnesses
Helen L. Fisher
Intervening early during childhood and adolescence to prevent mental health problems from becoming chronic, or even to prevent them occurring at all, has become an increasingly popular approach within the field of mental health over the past three decades. The importance of, and potential for, early preventive interventions in infancy, the pre‐natal period and even pre‐conception is highlighted by several of the papers featured in the current issue of the Journal, which are summarised in this editorial. Identifying children most at risk of mental illness in order to selectively target preventive efforts and carefully testing the effectiveness of these interventions, particularly in low‐and middle‐income country contexts, are crucial next steps as we move towards an era of more personalised and earlier prevention and intervention in mental health.
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Helen has spent 18 years researching the aetiology and treatment of psychosis in young people. Her initial research involved evaluating Early Intervention Services for young people with psychosis, and then focused on the role of childhood maltreatment in the development and course of psychosis. During her MQ Fellows award she extended this work to explore the social, psychological and epigenetic factors that increase and decrease the risk of psychotic experiences developing and persisting during adolescence amongst victimised children.
Currently, her research programme examines the role of the wider environment (neighbourhood social factors and air pollution) in the emergence of psychotic phenomena and other mental health problems during adolescence; epigenetic signatures of victimisation and psychosis; the phenomenology of childhood psychotic symptoms; predicting which victimised children will have poor functioning and develop psychopathology in late adolescence; improving public understanding of psychosis through immersive art experiences; and early identification of adolescents at risk for depression around the globe.
She is also a co-investigator of the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study and a Research Consultant for the NSPCC.