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The Director Discusses: The Importance of Early Intervention

Photo: John F. Greden, M.D.Like many other chronic conditions, depressive and bipolar illnesses often develop early in life.  For example, we know that depression is a common disorder among children, and that approximately 5% of children at any one time may suffer from serious depression. We also know that 50% of adult mental disorders are diagnosed by age 14, and 75% by age 24. Early management of depression leads to the best outcomes for these individuals, but this, of course, requires early detection.  Knowing that clinical depression and bipolar symptom onset peak between ages 15-24, we must start screening earlier.

The Depression Center’s five strategic missions are intrinsically interconnected and all contribute to transforming the field of depressive disorders.   Our emphasis on early intervention, however, is of critical and increasing importance.   As noted earlier, the first depressive episode often occurs early in life, but it may also happen at any point in the lifespan, particularly around times of stress or major transitions.

Early intervention means taking action at the time of the first episode, or very shortly thereafter, and many of the Depression Center’s programs focus on populations experiencing some of life’s most vulnerable periods.

High school and college students, for example, are at particular risk of depression, based both on their age and the stress that accompanies life events during this period, including adjustments to high school, preparing for college, and leaving home.  The Center’s outreach awareness program in the Ann Arbor public schools is serving as a model for reaching students “where they live” by helping parents, educators and administrators and counselors recognize the signs of depression in students and know what to do to help.  Depression Center programs for college students are tailored to those experiencing stressful new circumstances.  Our Campus Mind Works website  helps students to manage their illness within the context of college life, and our 9th annual Depression on College Campuses Conference will offer a focus on Early Detection and Intervention, an area of growing interest to college counselors and campus leadership.

Motherhood can be a time of both great joys and challenges. The Mom Power program addresses both the needs of new mothers, who can experience a first episode or recurrence of depression while pregnant or post-partum, as well as those mothers’ infants, whose development and wellbeing can be adversely affected by maternal depression.  Developed by Depression Center faculty member Maria Muzik, MD, MS, and her team, MOM Power is an attachment-based parenting and self-care skills group curriculum for young mothers and their infants and toddlers. Maria and her team have found that early intervention is crucial in capturing a new mother’s motivation, and that even the smallest positive change in a new mother’s life can produce substantial benefits for her child.  Data from the MOM Power program (supported with funding from the Todd Ouida Children’s Foundation and Joshua and Amy Berman), demonstrate the program’s influence in improving the mothers’ mental health, parenting style, and child outcomes.  In addition, more children are getting connected to needed community resources, including healthcare and school-based early intervention programs.

Intervening earlier and more effectively with teens, new mothers, and infants helps meet other Depression Center goals, including preventing recurrences and counteracting stigma.  Our missions are interconnected.  They all contribute to treating the whole person.


John F. Greden, M.D.

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