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Moving towards a population health approach to the primary prevention of common mental disorders

Felice N Jacka12*, Arnstein Mykletun34 and Michael Berk1256

Author Affiliations

1 Deakin University, School of Medicine and Barwon Health, PO Box 281, Geelong, 3220, Australia

2 The University of Melbourne, Department of Psychiatry, Parkville, 3010, Australia

3 Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Division of Mental Health, Kalfarveien 31, 5018, Bergen, Norway

4 University of New South Wales, School of Psychiatry, Black Dog Institute, Building Hospital Road, Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, 2031, Australia

5 The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Genetics Lane, Royal Parade, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, 3010, Australia

6 Orygen Youth Health Research Centre, 35 Poplar Road, Parkville, 3052, Australia

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BMC Medicine 2012, 10:149  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-10-149

Published: 27 November 2012


There is a need for the development of effective universal preventive approaches to the common mental disorders, depression and anxiety, at a population level. Poor diet, physical inactivity and smoking have long been recognized as key contributors to the high prevalence noncommunicable diseases. However, there are now an increasing number of studies suggesting that the same modifiable lifestyle behaviors are also risk factors for common mental disorders. In this paper we point to the emerging data regarding lifestyle risk factors for common mental disorders, with a particular focus on and critique of the newest evidence regarding diet quality. On the basis of this most recent evidence, we consequently argue for the inclusion of depression and anxiety in the ranks of the high prevalence noncommunicable diseases influenced by habitual lifestyle practices. We believe that it is both feasible and timely to begin to develop effective, sustainable, population-level prevention initiatives for the common mental illnesses that build on the established and developing approaches to the noncommunicable somatic diseases.

Anxiety; etiology; common mental disorders; diet; depression; lifestyle; physical activity; prevention; risk; smoking