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What is Prevention?

Prevention is implementing an intervention to alter adverse consequences.  Wichita Mountain Prevention Network embraces this philosophy and that is why it is a leader in substance abuse prevention.

Who Practices Prevention?

Everyone practices prevention.  You practice prevention. When you tie your shoes in the morning or lock your doors at night, you’re practicing prevention.  Why? Because you are preempting a problem that is a) predictable and b) changeable, the two prerequisites to being preventable.  Let me explain those prerequisites with an illustration.

The Example of the Arrow

 

Imagine you’re tied to a tree with an apple on your head.  A man fifty feet away from you plans to shoot the apple with a bow and arrow.  You see him put the arrow in the bow, and you watch him lift the bow and aim it at you (or at least near you).  This is a problem: there’s a very good chance he’ll miss the apple and hit you instead. It is also a predictable problem because you can see it coming: you can see that he’s drawing back the bow.  Still, it’s not a changeable problem. You’re tied to the tree and can’t move. All things considered, this is not a preventable problem. 

 

Now imagine that you’re still standing with an apple on your head, but you’re no longer tied to a tree; instead, you’re blindfolded.  The man with the bow and arrow is still preparing to shoot the apple from off the top of your head. This is still a problem. It’s a changeable problem because you could conceivably duck and run, but it’s not a predictable problem because you can’t see it coming.  All things considered, this is still not a preventable problem.

Now consider another situation.  You’ve still got an apple on your head and a man who wants to shoot it with a bow and arrow.  This is still a problem. But this time you have your body unbound and your eyes uncovered. You also have a friend nearby to warn you, an electronic early-warning alarm system for arrows, a metal shield, a concrete barrier, an up-armored Humvee, a great pair of Olympic track shoes, a grenade, an AK-47, and close air support waiting on your signal.   This is now not only a predictable problem but also a changeable one. All things considered, it is now a preventable problem.

You may not face such unusual preventable problems in your daily life, but the illustration still applies: you still face preventable problems.  And to solve these preventable problems you practice prevention.

The Professional Preventionist

Because all individuals practice prevention, it’s a foregone conclusion that all groups of individuals practice it too.  Still, some groups practice it more than others. These are the groups that face the greatest volume of preventable problems. Take the health fields, for example. Health professionals face problems that are highly predictable and highly changeable in other words, highly preventable, on a daily basis.  Whether the diagnosis is substance abuse, diabetes, or the flu, it’s often a preventable diagnosis. For this reason, many wellness-related organizations have embraced prevention.  Such organizations include health departments, hospitals, and federal agencies like the CDC and SAMHSA.

The field of behavioral health also aligns well with the philosophy of prevention.  Behavioral health is the “state of mental/emotional being and/or choices and actions that affect wellness.”

Who Needs Prevention?

Another way to phrase the question might be, “Who faces preventable health and wellness problems?”  Or better yet, “Who faces behavioral health problems?” Because behavioral health problems, the ones that stem from our choices, are really the only ones that are preventable.  Perhaps the best question of all is, “Who needs behavioral health?”

The answer is everyone.  Everyone needs behavioral health.  Though it is often mistaken as pertaining only to those who suffer mental illness, substance use disorders, or suicidal ideations, the reality is that behavioral health applies to everyone.  Why? Because everyone is affected by personal behavior. Additionally, no matter how healthy your behaviors may be or how good your health is, there is always room for improvement. That’s the idea behind the concept of the continuum of care.

The continuum of care (illustrated below) is the idea that everyone needs some sort of behavioral health service, but what you need depends on your level of health and wellness.  Additionally, it’s the thought that health and wellness are not just a point online; they’re more like a range on a spectrum. People in healthier ranges need the behavioral health services nearer the left, and people in sicker ranges need the services nearer the right.

Notice that there are three different types of prevention: universal, selected, and indicated.  We’ll talk about the differences between these types on our Evidenced-Based Strategies page.