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What is precision mental health? This is why it is necessary

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What is precision mental health?  This is why it is necessary

You wouldn’t just wear the exact same suit or dress that others are wearing, instead of a suit or dress that actually fits your size, shape, personality, interests and current situation, would you? Why then would you expect that a single approach or set of approaches to mental health would work for everyone?

After all, psychology and mental health are a lot more complex than buying clothes. One size or style certainly does not fit all. Rather, there is a need to tailor different approaches to mental health care to different people’s characteristics, environments, and situations, which brings us to the concept of precision mental health.

The word ‘precision’ means bringing greater exactness or accuracy to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment methods that, in the case of precision mental health care, relate to mental health. There is certainly no shortage of preventive, diagnostic and treatment approaches in the field of mental health. Over the years, scientific research has provided a growing number of insights into what influences mental health and how to deal with these different factors and processes. There are now a range of different therapy programs, books, lectures and apps available, along with various medications. If you want to address mental health issues, there are certainly many more options today than there were decades ago.

Yet many statistics suggest that mental health has become increasingly worse in recent decades in the US and other countries around the world. For example, a 2021 study by the American Psychological Association showed that demand for psychologists to treat anxiety and depression increased between 2020 and 2021, continuing an upward trend that began before the Covid-19 pandemic. The The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Youth Mental Health Survey. found that 42% of respondents experienced “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” in 2021, a significant increase from 28% in 2011. And a study published in 2023 in The Lancet Psychiatry predicted that one in two people in the world will develop a mental disorder in their lifetime, based on surveys of more than 150,000 adults from 29 different countries.

So why hasn’t the existence of more mental health preventive and treatment options translated into fewer mental health problems among the population? Why have the trends gone in the opposite direction instead? One possible reason is that many ecological, social, political and economic conditions in our society have continued to change in recent decades. Social media, for example, has gone from a twinkle – or some might say a jingle – to a predominant form of social interaction in the eyes of Silicon Valley. And much has been written about the potential negative effects of social media on mental health.

Social media can make a problem even worse: people spend less and less direct time with each other. A 2023 U.S. Surgeon General report entitled “Our epidemic of loneliness and social isolation‘described how Americans felt increasingly disconnected and increasingly lonely. Yes, the times they are changing can certainly apply in these and other ways to recent decades, meaning that mental health approaches that have worked before may no longer be as accurate and effective.

Another possible big reason is the potential lack of coordination between the potpourri of mental health approaches in how they are applied. The right combinations of programs, apps, and other options may not be available in the right way and deployed to the right people. When a new mental health approach is promoted on social media or elsewhere, there can be a tendency to suggest that it works for everyone, or to fail to specify who would benefit most and least from the approach . In other words, one must ask how exactly the various available approaches to mental health care are used?

A third problem is that many approaches to mental health care may currently focus more on addressing the consequences of mental health problems, rather than the root causes. For example, medications may help reduce symptoms, but may not address the environmental, social, developmental, and other factors that led to the condition in the first place. If you chase the results of a problem instead of proactively addressing the causes, your approach can end up being a lot less effective and a lot less, you guessed it, accurate.

The past decade has seen an increasingly precise approach to healthcare and healthcare in general. In his 2015 State of the Union address, then-President Barrack Obama mentioned the launch of the the White House Precision Medicine Initiative. The White House described this initiative as ‘tailor-made healthcare’ and moving away from the historical trend that ‘most medical treatments are designed for the ‘average patient’. And things designed for the average patient can surprise, surprise, lead to very average results.

Since then, more and more health-related precision terms and approaches have emerged. For example, in 2022, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched their Nutrition for Precision Health (NPH) consortium, which I arranged Forbes. There is also the term precision population health, which I described Forbes in 2023. Ultimately, you could put the word “precision” in front of almost any health or healthcare term. You can have precision oncology, precision epidemiology or even precision proctology.

In all cases, achieving greater precision means better understanding and addressing the entire system of factors that can impact each person you are trying to protect, diagnose, treat or otherwise help. For mental health care, this system can be quite complex and very different for each person. A person’s mental health situation can depend on what happened earlier in the person’s life – ranging from upbringing to environmental exposure during childhood – what happened in the person’s life. “ranging from the person’s workplace and family situation to the person’s diet and physical activity – and what will happen soon in the person’s life. Therefore, achieving greater precision in mental health care will depend on using more systems approaches to further clarify this complex system.

Our society is at a turning point. It is amid growing mental health crises. At the same time, more data, more scientific information, more technology, including more computer-based approaches such as artificial intelligence (AI), and more preventive, diagnostic, and treatment options in mental health are available. Will these all be used in combination to better tailor the approach to mental health care to different people and their needs? Or will there be more of a one-size-fits-all approach? That’s exactly the question.