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Treating and Preventing Adolescent Mental Health Disorders: What We Know and What We Don’t Know. A Research Agenda for Improving the Mental Health of Our Youth
Am J Psychiatry 2006;163:753-754. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.163.4.753

Edited by Dwight L. Evans, Edna B. Foa, Raquel E. Gur, Herbert Hendin, Charles P. O’Brien, Martin E.P. Seligman, and B. Timothy Walsh. New York, Oxford University Press, 2005, 818 pp, $59.50 (hardcover).

Adolescence is a transitional but developmentally very important period, which is also “noticeably malleable and plastic from a neurobiological, behavioral, and psychological perspective” (p. xxv). As pointed out in the introduction to this large volume, the prevention and treatment of developmental, emotional, or behavioral problems in adolescence (defined here broadly as ages 10 to 22) is one of the major public health problems facing the United States, since at least one in five adolescents suffers from a current developmental, emotional, or behavioral problem. There is a high prevalence of depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse among adolescents, and suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth. It is interesting, and unfortunate, that the prevalence of some of these disorders has been on the rise over each successive generation. It is also unfortunate, although we know a lot about adolescence, that there is a lot we do not know and do not understand about this period of life and its role in the development of a host of psychological and behavioral problems. Thus, the editors of this book felt that there was a need to provide the interested readership with “a comprehensive evaluation of what we know, and what we don’t know, about adolescent mental health to create a road map for further scientific study and point the way toward needed changes in social policy” (p. xxv). With the help of The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands’ Adolescent Mental Help Initiative they put together a group of leading experts to work on these issues and put together this book.

The experts, grouped into several commissions, focused on six areas: depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and youth suicide. These six areas constitute the six major parts of this volume. Each part consists of four chapters dealing with the definition, treatment, prevention, and research agenda for each of these areas (with the exception of the part on youth suicide, which has five chapters, two of them focusing on a universal approach to suicide prevention and a targeted approach to suicide prevention). The remaining two parts of this book discuss the positive perspective on youth development and summarize conclusions, recommendations, and priorities while discussing issues such as stigma, the role of primary care physicians in detecting and treating adolescent mental health problems, and the role of school mental health professionals in promoting adolescent mental health. As noted in the introduction, two major disorders—conduct disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—are not covered in this volume, since they are rooted in childhood and are well covered in a book considered a complementary volume to this book (1).

It seems to me that the major objectives of this work—to 1) review and summarize the adolescent literature for the six disorders (including risk factors and preventive measures) and positive development; 2) provide an understanding of similarities and differences between adolescents and adults; 3) provide recommendations for future research; and 4) help promote good adolescent mental health and positive youth development—have been superbly accomplished. This volume is a solid, meticulous, carefully written integration of our knowledge about adolescent mental health disorders and a proposal for future work in this area. It should be read by all those interested in adolescent mental health and mental disorders, especially child and adolescent psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists, but also by policy makers. I also believe that a book with 166 pages of references could be a great resource for all those interested in this area and thus belongs in their libraries (provided they have not received it yet!).

1. Nathan PE, Gorman JM: A guide to treatments that work, 2nd ed. New York, Oxford University Press, 2002


1. Nathan PE, Gorman JM: A guide to treatments that work, 2nd ed. New York, Oxford University Press, 2002

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