October is Prevention Month!
By Brandy Litt, Director of Community Engagement and Support (CES)
There is an interesting analogy that prevention people often use to describe their efforts. In a town there is a river, and there are suddenly many people falling into the river and almost drowning. The townspeople band together to start rescuing people who have fallen in, but every day there are more and more people that need to be rescued. Suddenly, someone realizes that the reason people are falling in is the bridge upstream – if we put in a fence along the sides, fewer people will fall in! Prevention efforts try and keep people from falling into the river, while treatment efforts are the townspeople working to save those who have already fallen in. With both working together, the town is healthier and safer.
There are different levels of prevention: primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary prevention works to promote healthy behaviors before there is a problem. This includes education and environmental approaches, where we try to put rules and laws in place that offer protections for everyone. Secondary interventions are used when someone is starting to get sick, or has a higher chance of developing unhealthy behaviors. This could be due to risk factors, such as a family history of a condition, or environmental risk factors like a neighborhood exposed to pollutants (perhaps from a factory). Tertiary prevention works to help people who are already sick or experiencing unhealthy behaviors. An example of tertiary prevention is implementing harm-reduction techniques (such as Narcan trainings) so that someone who has an opioid addiction is less likely to die due to an overdose.
The great thing about prevention is that many of the protective factors works for a wide range of behaviors. A protective factor can be biological, psychological, familial, or at a community level and lowers the likelihood of a negative outcome or behavior. Risk factors can be at any of those same levels and increase the likelihood of a negative outcome or behavior. Therefore, increasing a child’s coping skills ensures he or she is less likely to engage in risky social behaviors, have problems in school, or suffer from mental health problems.