Prevention of Disease - Tertiary Prevention

health diabetes mental suicide

Tertiary prevention programs aim to improve the quality of life for people with various diseases by limiting complications and disabilities, reducing the severity and progression of disease, and providing rehabilitation (therapy to restore functionality and self-sufficiency). Unlike primary and secondary prevention, tertiary prevention involves actual treatment for the disease and is conducted primarily by health care practitioners, rather than public health agencies.

Tertiary prevention efforts have demonstrated that it is possible to slow the natural course of some progressive diseases and prevent or delay many of the complications associated with chronic diseases such as arthritis (inflammation of the joints that causes pain, swelling, and stiffness), asthma (inflammation and obstruction of the airways that makes breathing difficult), heart disease, and diabetes.

An example of tertiary mental health prevention is outreach programs that monitor persons with mental disorders who live in the community to ensure that they adhere to their prescribed medication regimens. Such tertiary prevention programs have demonstrated efficacy in reducing acute psychiatric hospital admissions and long-term institutionalization and enabling persons with mental disorders to live independently.

Tertiary Prevention of Diabetes

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to control the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Diabetes mellitus is a disease in which high blood glucose levels result from insufficient insulin production or action. When there is not enough insulin produced, the body is unable to metabolize (use, regulate, and store) glucose, and it remains in the blood.

Type 1 diabetes mellitus (also called insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile-onset diabetes) occurs when pancreatic beta cells, the cells that make insulin, are destroyed by the body's own immune system. It usually develops in children and young adults. Because people with diabetes do not have enough insulin, they must be injected or inject themselves with insulin several times a day or receive insulin via a pump. About 5-10% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes are type 1.

Approximately 90-95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes are type 2 diabetes mellitus (also called non-insulin-dependent diabetes or adult-onset diabetes). Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin. As a result of the cells being unable to use insulin effectively, the amount of glucose they can take up is sharply reduced and high levels of glucose accumulate in the blood.

People who are older than age forty, overweight, have a family history of diabetes, and are physically inactive are at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. There is an increased prevalence of diabetes with age. The percent of persons diagnosed with diabetes over age sixty (15.1%) is more than twice as high as for persons ages forty to fifty-nine (6.6%). (See Table 2.7.)

African-Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Native Americans, and some Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are at greater risk for type 2 diabetes. Table 2.7 shows that in 1999–2002, 5.3% of whites were diagnosed with diabetes by a physician, compared with 11.2% of African-Americans and 10.5% of Mexicans. Figure 2.2 shows that non-Hispanic African-Americans and Hispanic/Latino Americans are disproportionately affected and that American Indians/Alaska Natives age twenty years or older are more than two times as likely to have been diagnosed with diabetes in 2005 as non-Hispanic whites.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK is one of the institutes of the National Institutes of Health), 1.5 million new cases of diabetes were diagnosed in 2005, with the largest number of new diagnoses among persons ages forty to fifty-nine. (See Figure 2.3.) NIDDK reports that in 2005, 20.8 million people—7% of the U.S. population—had diabetes. Of this more than twenty million, 14.6 million were diagnosed and 6.2 million were undiagnosed (

Many people with type 2 diabetes are able to control their blood sugar by losing excess weight, maintaining proper nutrition, and exercising regularly. Others require insulin injections or orally administered (taken by mouth) drugs to lower their blood sugar. Figure 2.4 shows that among adults diagnosed with diabetes in 2001–03, 16% take insulin only, 12% take both insulin and oral medication, 57% take only oral medication, and 15% take neither oral medication nor injected insulin.

Other types of diabetes can occur as a result of pregnancy (gestational diabetes) or physiologic stress such as surgery, trauma, malnutrition, infections, and other illnesses. TABLE 2.7 Diabetes among adults 20 years of age and over, by sex, age, and race and Hispanic origin, 1988–94 and 1999–2002 "Table 55. Diabetes among Adults 20 Years of Age and over, by Sex, Age, and Race and Hispanic Origin: United States, 1988–94 and 1999–2002," in Health, United States, 2005, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, November 2005, December 8, 2005)

Diabetes among adults 20 years of age and over, by sex, age, and race and Hispanic origin, 1988–94 and 1999–2002
[Data are based on physical examinations of a sample of the civilian noninstitutionalized population]
Sex, age, and race and Hispanic ariginc Physician-diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetesa,b Physician-diagnosed diabetesa Undiagnosed diabetesb
1988–94 1999–2002 1988–94 1999–2002 1988–94 1999–2002
aPhysician-diagnosed diabetes was obtained by self-report and excludes women who reported diabetes only during pregnancy.
bUndiagnosed diabetes is defined as a fasting blood glucose of at least 126 mg/dL and no reported physician diagnosis.
cPersons of Mexican origin may be of any race. Starting with data year 1999, race-specific estimates are tabulated according to 1997 Standards for Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity and are not strictly comparable with estimates for earlier years. The two non-Hispanic race categories shown in the table conform to 1997 standards. The 1999–2002 race-specific estimates are for persons who reported only one racial group. Data for 1988–94 were tabulated according to 1977 standards. Estimates for single race categories prior to 1999 included persons who reported one race or, if they reported more than one race, identified one race as best representing their race.
dEstimates are age adjusted to the year 2000 standard population using three age groups: 20-39 years, 40-59 years, and 60 years and over. Age-adjusted estimates in this table may differ from other age-adjusted estimates based on the same data and presented elsewhere if different age groups are used in the adjustment procedure.
eIncludes all other races and Hispanic origins not shown separately.
fEstimates are considered unreliable.
SOURCE: "Table 55. Diabetes among Adults 20 Years of Age and over, by Sex, Age, and Race and Hispanic Origin: United States, 1988–94 and 1999–2002," in Health, United States, 2005, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, November 2005, December 8, 2005)
20 yeas and over, age adjustedd Percent of population
All personse 8.4 9.4 5.4 6.6 3.0 2.9
Male 8.8 10.7 5.4 7.1 3.5 3.8
Female 8.0 8.3 5.4 6.2 2.6 2.2
Not Hispanic or Latino:
    White 7.5 8.0 5.0 5.3 2.6 2.8
    Black or African American 12.6 14.8 8.6 11.2 4.2 3.9f
Mexican 14.1 13.6 9.7 10.5 4.7 3.5
20 years and over, crude
All personse 7.8 9.3 5.1 6.5 2.7 2.8
Male 7.9 10.2 4.8 6.7 3.0 3.5
Female 7.8 8.5 5.4 6.3 2.4 2.2
Not Hispanic or Latino:
    White 7.5 8.5 5.0 5.6 2.5 2.9
    Black or African American 10.4 13.2 6.9 9.9 3.4 3.3f
Mexican 9.0 8.3 5.6 6.5 3.4 1.8
20-39 years 1.6 f 1.1 1.7 0.6 f
40-59 years 8.9 9.8 5.5 6.6 3.4 3.3
60 years and over 18.9 20.9 12.8 15.1 6.1 5.8

These types of diabetes account for about 5% of all diagnosed cases of the disease, according to the NIDDK.

A major public health concern is the more than six million Americans who are not aware that they have diabetes. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reported that the number of adults in the United States with diagnosed diabetes (including women with gestational diabetes) increased 61% from 1991 to 2001 and is expected to more than double by 2050 (2003,


According to the NIDDK, adults with diabetes suffer from heart disease at much higher rates (two to four times higher than people without diabetes)—in fact, heart disease is the number-one cause of death among people with diabetes. Similarly, adults with diabetes are also at increased risk for stroke (damage to the brain that occurs when its blood supply is cut off, frequently because of blockage in an artery that supplies the brain) and hypertension (nearly three-fourths of adults with diabetes have high blood pressure). Together, heart disease and stroke account for about 65% of deaths in people with diabetes. Other serious complications of this disease include the following:

  • Diabetic retinopathy—This is a condition that can cause blindness.
  • Diabetic neuropathy—This condition causes damage to the nervous system that may produce pain or loss of sensation in the hands or feet and other nerve problems.
  • Kidney disease—Diabetes accounts for almost half of all new end-stage renal disease cases that require dialysis (mechanical cleansing of the blood of impurities) or kidney transplant.
  • Amputation—Diabetes is responsible for more than half of all lower-limb amputations (surgical removal of toes, feet, and the leg below the knee) performed in the United States.
  • Dental disease—Gum diseases are common among people with diabetes, and nearly one-third of all people with diabetes have severe periodontal (tooth and gum) diseases.

FIGURE 2.2 Estimated age-adjusted total prevalence of diabetes in people aged 20 or older, by race/ethnicity, 2005 "Estimated Age-Adjusted Total Prevalence of Diabetes in People Aged 20 Years or Older, by Race/Ethnicity—United States, 2005," in National Diabetes Statistics Fact Sheet: General Information and National Estimates on Diabetes in the United States, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, November 2005, December 14, 2005)

FIGURE 2.3 Estimated number of new cases of diagnosed diabetes in people aged 20 years and older, by age group, 2005 "Esstimated Number of New Cases of Diagnosed Diabetes in People Aged 20 Years and Older, by Age Group—United States, 2005," in National Diabetes Statistics Fact Sheet: General Information and National Estimates on Diabetes in the United States, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, November 2005, December 14, 2005)

  • Problems with pregnancy—Diabetes may cause birth defects, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage), and excessively large babies that may create additional health risks for expectant mothers.

FIGURE 2.4 Treatment with insulin or oral medications among adults with diagnosed diabetes, 2001–03 "Treatment with Insulin or Oral Medications among Adults with Diagnosed Diabetes—United States, 2001–2003," in National Diabetes Statistics Fact Sheet: General Information and National Estimates on Diabetes in the United States, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, November 2005, December 14, 2005)

  • Increased risk of infection—People with diabetes are more susceptible to infection and do not recover as quickly as people without diabetes.

Further, poorly controlled or uncontrolled diabetes may produce life-threatening medical emergencies, such as diabetic ketoacidosis (excessive ketones—chemicals in the blood resulting from insufficient insulin and an excessive amount of counterregulatory hormones such as glucagon) or hyperosmolar (extremely high blood glucose, leading to dehydration) coma.

Achieving optimal control of blood glucose levels can prevent many of the complications of diabetes and decrease the risk of death associated with the disease. Optimal control involves aggressive treatment of diabetes with close attention to the roles of diet, exercise, weight management, and pharmacology (proper use of insulin and other medication) in self-management of the disease.


According to the CDC, diabetes researchers have determined that even modest improvement in controlling blood glucose acts to help prevent diabetic retinopathy, neuropathy, and kidney disease. Reducing blood pressure has the potential to reduce cardiovascular complications (heart disease and stroke) by as much as 50% and to reduce the risk of retinopathy, neuropathy, and kidney disease by almost one-third. Lowering blood cholesterol (a waxy substance produced by the body and also found in animal products), low-density lipoproteins (LDL), and triglycerides also reduces, by as much as 50%, the cardiovascular complications of diabetes. (Cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides are lipids that may be measured in the blood.)

Early detection and treatment of diabetic eye disease can reduce the possibility of blindness or serious loss of vision by about 50%, the CDC reports. Similarly, early detection and treatment of kidney disease sharply reduces the risk of developing kidney failure, and careful attention to foot care reduces the risk of amputation by as much as 85%.

To help increase early detection of diabetes (secondary prevention) and reduce the morbidity (illnesses) and mortality (deaths) associated with it (tertiary prevention), the CDC and NIDDK launched the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) in 1998. The NDEP's objectives are to increase public awareness of diabetes, improve self-management of people with diabetes, enhance health care providers' knowledge and treatment of diabetes, and promote health policies that improve access, availability, and quality of diabetes care. To meet these educational objectives, the NDEP, working with a variety of other health organizations, develops and distributes teaching tools and resources.

Print advertising and patient education materials developed by the NDEP focus on personal responsibility for self-management of diabetes. For example, one print advertisement was translated from Spanish into English after it proved tremendously successful in Hispanic/Latino communities. The ad featured a photograph of a lightning bolt next to the heading: "There are many things in life that can't be controlled. Fortunately diabetes isn't one of them."

The 148-page NDEP patient information book also emphasizes the importance of self-care in the prevention of complications of diabetes. For example, the section on foot care explains, "There's a lot you can to do prevent problems with your feet. Controlling your blood glucose and not smoking or using tobacco can help protect your feet. You can also take some simple safeguards each day to care for and protect your feet." The section goes on to explain the importance of self-care habits such as having one's feet checked, washing them carefully, trimming toenails, taking care of corns and calluses, protecting feet from heat and cold, wearing shoes and socks, and remaining physically active.


This section presents a national mental health and suicide risk screening program for youth described in Achieving the Promise: Transforming Mental Health Care in America, published by the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health (2003, This section also offers recommendations and descriptions of interventions considered effective at preventing suicide from a publication by the Committee on Pathophysiology and Prevention of Adolescent and Adult Suicide, Board of Neuroscience and Behavioral Health, of the Institute of Medicine (IOM): Reducing Suicide: A National Imperative (2002) (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2002,

The IOM's Reducing Suicide report characterizes current mental health prevention programs as rooted in the "universal, selective, and indicated (USI) prevention model." This model considers three defined populations—the entire population is included in universal programs, specific high-risk groups are targeted by selective programs, and indicated programs address specific high-risk individuals. Universal programming assumes a basically healthy population and generally aims at protection against developing a disorder by offering, for example, enhanced coping skills and resiliency training. Examples of universal programs are educational programs to heighten awareness of a problem and mass-media campaigns intended to increase understanding of and attitudes about a particular issue.

Population-based programs often produce greater gains than programs targeting individuals because there are higher rates of program participation. For example, all the students in a given grade will be exposed to school-based drug prevention programs. Selective programs target subsets of populations that have been identified as at risk but are not yet diagnosed with a specific problem or disorder—persons who have a greater-than-average likelihood of developing mental disorders, such as adolescents with truancy or suspected substance abuse problems. Indicated programs are aimed at specific high-risk individuals who have evidenced early signs or symptoms of mental disorders, such as children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who may be at greater risk of developing conduct disorders, or students who have engaged in disruptive or other disturbed behavior at school.

By recounting the histories, benefits, and scientific evaluation of mental health prevention programs, these reports offer a framework for developing and implementing mental health prevention programs and policies in a wide range of settings, including primary medical care practices and clinics, maternal and infant health and mental health programs, child care centers, school-based health centers, vocational training programs, social service agencies, parent education programs, and the media. Further, these reports disseminate the methods and results of effective programs, enabling mental health service providers and other stakeholders throughout the country to replicate these results in their local communities.

Adolescent Intervention Programs

One recommendation from the report of the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health was to "improve and expand school mental health programs." It cited research demonstrating that about 42% of students with serious emotional disturbances graduate from high school, compared with 57% of students with other disabilities. The commission believed this could be changed, because it found ample evidence that school mental health programs improved academic achievement—with improved test scores, fewer absences, and less discipline problems—by detecting mental health problems early and providing timely referral to appropriate treatment.

The commission observed that the concerted effort needed to deliver quality mental health services in schools entailed collaboration with parents and local providers of mental health care to support screening, assessment, and early intervention. It also asserted that mental health services must be integral parts of school health centers and that federal funds must be available to support the programs.

The report lauded the Columbia University TeenScreen program as a model program of screening and early intervention. The program ensures mental health screening of all students before they leave high school and early identification of students at risk for suicide or those with symptoms of depression or other mental illness. Evaluation of the program found it to be remarkably effective—identifying more than 60% of students later found to have recurrent mental health problems or mental disorders. Table 2.8 summarizes the goals, features, outcomes, and principal challenges faced during implementation of the TeenScreen program.

Participants complete a ten-minute paper-and-pencil or computerized questionnaire. The questionnaires cover anxiety, depression, substance and alcohol abuse, and suicidal thoughts and behavior. The TeenScreen program does not recommend any particular type of treatment for the teens who are identified by the mental health screening. Parents of students identified as at possible risk are notified and offered information and referral to local mental health services where they can obtain further evaluation. No student is screened without parental consent, and the results of the screen are confidential. Screening occurs in a range of venues, including schools, clinics, physicians' offices, and juvenile justice facilities.

TeenScreen is supported by thirty-four national organizations, including the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Federation of Teachers, and the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental

TABLE 2.8 Columbia University teen mental health screening program "Figure 4.2. Model Program: Screening Program for Youth," in Achieving the Promise: Transforming Mental Health Care in America, President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, 2003, December 15, 2005)
Columbia University teen mental health screening program
aShaffer, D., Fisher, P., Lucas, C. P., Dulcan, M. K., & Schwab-Stone, M. E. (2000). NIMH Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children Version IV (NIMH DISC-IV): Description, differences from previous versions, and reliability of some common diagnoses. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 39, 28-38.
bShaffer, D. & Craft, L. (1999). Methods of adolescent suicide prevention. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 60, Supplement 2, 70-74.
cLeslie McGuire, personal communication, June 24, 2003.
SOURCE: "Figure 4.2. Model Program: Screening Program for Youth," in Achieving the Promise: Transforming Mental Health Care in America, President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, 2003, December 15, 2005)
Program Columbia University TeenScreen® Program
Goal To ensure that all youth are offered a mental health check-up before graduating from high school. TeenScreen® identifies and refers for treatment those who are at risk for suicide or suffer from an untreated mental illness.
Features All youngsters in a school, with parental consent, are given a computer-based questionnaire that screens them for mental illnesses and suicide risk. At no charge, the Columbia University TeenScreen® Program provides consultation, screening materials, software, training, and technical assistance to qualifying schools and communities. In return, TeenScreen® partners are expected to screen at least 200 youth per year and ensure that a licensed mental health professional is on-site to give immediate counseling and referral services for youth at greatest risk. The Columbia TeenScreen® Program is a not-for-profit organization funded solely by foundations. When the program identifies youth needing treatment, their care is paid for depending on the family's health coverage.
Outcmes The computer-based questionnaire used by TeenScreen® is a valid and reliable screening instrument.a The vast majority of youth identified through the program as having already made a suicide attempt, or at risk for depression or suicidal thinking, are not in treatment.b A follow-up study found that screening in high school identified more than 60% of students who, four to six years later, continued to have long-term, recurrent problems with depression and suicidal attempts.c
Biggest challenge To bridge the gap between schools and local providers of mental health services. Another challenge is to ensure, in times of fiscal austerity, that schools devote a health professional to screening and referral.
Howother organazitions can adopt The Columbia University TeenScreen® program is pilot-testing a shorter questionnaire, which will be less costly and time-consuming for the school to administer. It is also trying to adapt the program to primary care settings.
Sites where implemented 69 sites (mostly middle schools and high schools) in 27 states

Health, and is funded by private foundations and individuals. It operates by partnering with communities throughout the nation to implement local screening programs for youth. The local programs are developed in consultation with Columbia University to meet the specific needs and resources of each community. Programs range from one-day screening efforts to full-time, district-wide screening for all high school students. Columbia offers consultation, training, screening tools, and technical assistance to participating communities free-of-charge. By the close of 2005 TeenScreen operated eight national model programs and had developed partnerships to implement statewide screening programs with state agencies in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Nevada.


Suicide risk factors, protective factors, and national prevention strategy

  • National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: AIM
    • Awareness: promote public awareness of suicide as a public health problem
    • Intervention: enhance services and programs
    • Methodology: advance the science of suicide prevention
  • Risk factors
    • Male gender
    • Mental disorders, particularly depression and substance abuse
    • Prior suicide attempts
    • Unwillingness to seek help because of stigma
    • Barriers to accessing mental health treatment
    • Stressful life event/loss
    • Easy access to lethal methods such as guns
  • Protective factors
    • Effective and appropriate clinical care for underlying disorders
    • Easy access to care
    • Support from family, community, and health and mental health care staff

SOURCE: Adapted from "Figure 4.1. Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent Suicide—1999," in Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, with NIH, 1999, December 15, 2005)


The HHS's Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General (1999, termed suicide a serious public health problem and recommended a three-pronged national strategy to prevent suicide, which included programs to educate, heighten understanding, intervene, and advance the science of suicide prevention. Table 2.9 shows the components of AIM (awareness, intervention, and methodology)—the national strategy for suicide prevention—as well as risk factors and protective factors for suicide.

The IOM's Reducing Suicide described suicide as "a major national and international public health problem with about 30,000 deaths in the United States and 1,000,000 deaths in the world each year and every year."

In view of the magnitude of the problem, the IOM report called for development, testing, expansion, and implementation of programs for suicide prevention funded by appropriate agencies, including the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA), the CDC, and the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Specific recommendations about prevention programs included:

  • Creating partnerships among federal, state, and local agencies to implement effective suicide prevention programs
  • Collaborating with professional societies, including the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, and nonprofit organizations dedicated to the prevention of suicide, such as the American Association of Suicidology
  • Expanding programs that have demonstrated success in select populations. For example, the Air Force program (see below) should be adopted by comparable organizations that experience increased suicide rates such as police and emergency rescue workers. There should be a systematic identification of high suicide risk groups for targeted intervention.
  • Including coping and resiliency training in the curricula for school-aged children and intensifying or expanding these when feasible. In view of the link between cumulative life stresses and suicide and the existing data supporting the efficacy of these programs, it is expected that this training will act to reduce the frequency of suicidal behavior as well as other mental health disorders.
  • Restricting access to common means of suicide by enacting or strengthening legislation to ensure gun safety, building barriers on bridges, modifying contents of cooking gas, reinforcing packaging of commonly used pills, and poison control
  • Evaluating public education campaigns to determine and quantify their effectiveness to change knowledge and attitudes and to reduce suicide and suicidal behaviors

The Air Force Suicide Prevention Program

The IOM report considered a variety of prevention programs that address risk factors and aim to enhance protective factors in order to reduce the incidence of suicide and suicidal behaviors. It observed that programs that appear effective, such as one initiated by the U.S. Air Force, are comprehensive and simultaneously act to increase knowledge and change attitudes within a community, dispel barriers to treatment, and improve access to support and intervention.

The Air Force Suicide Prevention Program is a population-based, community approach to suicide risk prevention and behavioral health promotion that was named a "best practice initiative" by the assistant secretary for health of the HHS. It integrated human, medical, and mental health services, uniting a coalition of community agencies from within and outside of the health care delivery system to significantly reduce suicide among air force personnel, which had risen to an all-time high during the mid-1990s. Figure 2.5 shows suicide rates among air force personnel from 1990 to 2002.

The program attempted to reduce risk factors, such as problems with the law, finances, intimate relationships, mental health, job performance, substance abuse, social isolation, and poor coping skills. It simultaneously sought FIGURE 2.5 Suicide rate of Air Force members, 1990–2002 "Suicide Rate—U.S. Air Force Members 1990–2002," in "Air Force Suicide Prevention Program: A Population-Based, Community Approach," Best practice Initiative, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2002, December 15, 2005)to strengthen protective factors such as effective coping skills, a sense of social connectedness, support, and policies and norms that encourage effective help-seeking behaviors. To stimulate help-seeking behaviors, the air force chief of staff forcefully communicated the urgent need for air force leaders, supervisors, and frontline workers to support one another during times of heightened life stress. He exhorted airmen to seek help from mental health clinics and observed that seeking help early was likely to enhance careers rather than hinder them. The chief of staff instructed commanders and supervisors to support and protect those who sought mental health care and eliminated policies that served as barriers to seeking and obtaining mental health care.

To improve surveillance, a Web-based database was established to capture demographic, risk factor, and protective factor information about individuals who attempted or completed suicide. This extremely secure tool protected privacy and permitted timely detection of changes in patterns in suicidal behavior that could be used to strengthen policies and enhance practices throughout the air force community. To improve crisis management, critical incident stress management teams were assembled and poised for deployment to installations hard hit by potentially traumatizing events such as combat deployments, serious aircraft accidents, and natural disasters, as well as suicides within the units.

When the program commenced in 1995, suicide was the second-leading cause of death among air force personnel. After its inception, the suicide rate declined significantly for three consecutive years. During the first six months in 1999 the rate dropped to less than 3.5 per one hundred thousand—more than 50% less than the lowest rate on record prior to 1995 and an 80% drop from the peak rates in the mid-1990s. Although the suicide rates increased in 2000 and early 2001, they declined again after and remained much lower than rates prior to 1995. (See Figure 2.5.)

The air force experience is not necessarily applicable to the general population, because the air force is a tightly controlled and relatively homogenous community with identifiable leaders readily able to influence community norms and priorities. It can still serve as a model for comparable hierarchical organizations and offers insight into prevention program planning. The program's overarching principles, such as engaging community leaders to change cultural norms, improving coordination of diverse human and health services, and providing educational programs to community members, can inform national efforts and may be replicable in other populations.

School-Based Prevention Programs

After reviewing eleven universal prevention strategies targeting high school students and more than fifteen programs aimed at younger students, the IOM report confirmed that school-based programs have demonstrated success in reducing suicidal behavior, but it also observed that effective school-based interventions were far more than simply awareness or education programs. Successful programs offer services such as screening, support, and skills training groups, and establish school-based crisis response plans and teams of professionals to enact the plans. They emphasize the importance of telling adults about emotional distress and seeking help for oneself or friends, as well as cultivation of the competence and skills that offer protection from the adverse effects of stress.

The IOM cited Reconnecting Youth, a personal competency training program piloted in five urban high schools as a model selective prevention program that uses a combination of support and skills training. Between 35% and 40% of youth at risk for academic failure are also at risk for suicide, so the program targeted potential high school dropouts. The program was offered as a single-semester, daily, fifty-five-minute elective class with one facilitator or teacher and about ten students. Participants completed a comprehensive suicide-risk assessment and learned a variety of skills that produced measurable gains in increasing personal control—self-efficacy, self-esteem, and reliance on social supports. Participants also reported decreased depression, hopelessness, anger, and stress.

The school-based prevention programs for youth identified as being at risk focused on enhancing students' feelings of personal control. The IOM report presented two programs, Counselors Care (C-CARE) and Project CAST (Coping and Support Training). C-CARE interventions targeted potential high school dropouts who had shown specific early signs of suicide and related risk factors and offered them an in-depth motivational interview that assessed a list of direct suicide risk factors, related risk factors, and protective factors. Following a one-on-one, two-hour assessment interview, participants received an additional two-hour counseling session and meetings with parents and school personnel, intended to strengthen social connections. A booster session, consisting of further assessment and counseling, was provided between six and eight weeks following the initial intervention.

Project CAST provided twelve sessions of small group skills training and case management along with the initial and booster sessions provided by C-CARE for a comparable target population. In addition to addressing school performance and drug use, the twelve sessions emphasized building personal resources such as self-esteem, personal control of moods, positive coping strategies, staying on track, and monitoring and setting goals. The sessions also concentrated on empathy and motivation as well as identifying support needs and resources, and how to access help and support.

Participants from both programs were followed and assessed on four different occasions, including nine months after completion of either program. Both programs were found to enhance self-esteem and reduce depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and anger. Each also decreased the use of "hard" drugs, but CAST was more effective at reducing alcohol and marijuana use and produced more enduring increases in problem solving, coping, and personal control. There were no measurable changes in suicide rates, but this finding is not surprising in view of the low risk of suicide during the limited follow-up period and the relatively small sample sizes of the populations.

Do Telephone Hotlines and Crisis Centers Prevent Suicide?

Although crisis centers and telephone hotlines that aim to prevent suicide attempts are ubiquitous, the IOM report observed that their effectiveness is unknown. The IOM recommended research to determine not only whether such services are effective preventive measures or deterrents but also which model of crisis counseling or telephone service is most effective. Is anonymous telephone counseling preferable to telephone counseling in which the caller must disclose his or her identity? Is face-to-face counseling a better intervention than telephone counseling in terms of connecting persons in crisis to mental health services they might otherwise fail to seek or obtain? Should crisis centers and telephone hotlines be staffed by professional mental health workers or trained volunteers? Finally, the IOM report encouraged researchers to consider whether provision of crisis intervention services via the Internet is a workable alternative, especially for youths who may be more comfortable seeking help online than in person or by telephone.


In 1986 Congress funded the first Prevention Research Centers. As of 2006, thirty-three such centers were affiliated with medical schools or schools of public health. The centers explore and research a wide range of public health problems and test strategies to address those problems. Table 2.10 is a list of the Prevention Research Centers and the themes of research underway. In 2006 more than five hundred funded projects were examining programs addressing myriad prevention efforts such as childhood obesity, reducing smoking among Appalachian teens, promoting healthy aging, and workplace safety.

Primary prevention research and programming in the past has aimed to prevent illness by more effectively encouraging people to avoid behaviors (such as smoking, abusing drugs, engaging in unsafe sexual practices, and overeating) linked to health risk. Prevention research and education now also emphasize avoiding or reducing environmental exposures (such as sun, water pollution, radon, ozone, pesticides, and hazardous chemicals) that increase health risk.

Mental Health Prevention Research

The National Advisory Mental Health Council (NAMHC) advises the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the director of the NIH, and the director of the NIMH on policies and activities relating to mental health prevention research, research training, and other programs of the NIMH. In reports issued in 1991 and 2001, the NAMHC described a number of critically needed new areas for research that are essential for expanding prevention efforts in the field of mental health. These included:

  • The NIMH definition of prevention research should be broader and should include studies of risk factors for mental illness, comorbidity of mental illnesses, and relapse and disability caused by mental illness.
  • Prevention research should include not only individuals but also larger social units such as families, communities, and other social systems. It should also include public policy and laws that may influence the effectiveness of prevention interventions.
  • More research should be conducted to determine how best to decrease relapse and disability in persons with major mental disabilities such as schizophrenia.
  • More studies should be done to determine and quantify the cost-effectiveness of prevention programs.
TABLE 2.10 Prevention Research Centers' core projects "Prevention Research Centers' Core Projects," in Prevention Research Centers: A Bridge to Health Action, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, November 10, 2005, December 14, 2005)
TABLE 2.10
Prevention Research Centers' core projects
SOURCE: "Prevention Research Centers' Core Projects," in Prevention Research Centers: A Bridge to Health Action, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, November 10, 2005, December 14, 2005)
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Building community capacity for health in Alabama's black belt
University of Arizona
Reducing diabetes in communities on the U.S.-Mexico border
San Diego State University
Increasing physical activity in Latino families around Tijuana

University of California at Berkeley
Improving health in California's Korean American community

University of California at Los Angeles
Promoting adolescent health in African American and Hispanic families
University of Colorado
Advancing healthy lifestyles in underserved Rocky Mountain communities
Yale University
Addressing health disparities in rural and urban Connecticut
University of South Florida
Using community-based prevention marketing for health promotion
Emory University
Reducing health disparities in rural southwest Georgia

Morehouse School of Medicine
Building community capacity to promote health in southeast Atlanta
University of Illinois at Chicago
Evaluating interventions to reduce diabetes in inner-city communities
University of Iowa
Helping communities in rural Iowa improve their residents' quality of life
University of Kentucky
Controlling cancer in central Appalachia
Tulane University
Changing the environment to increase physical activity in low-income New Orleans
The Johns Hopkins University
Integrating health promotion into existing programs for Baltimore's youths
Boston University
Improving the health and well-being of Boston's public housing residents

Harvard University
Preventing cancer in Massachusetts' communities
University of Michigan
Examining social determinants of health in low-income Michigan counties
University of Minnesota
Identifying best practices for adolescents' healthy development
Saint Louis University
Maintaining rural community coalitions to prevent chronic diseases
New Mexico
University of New Mexico
Improving nutrition and physical activity among Navajo elders
New York
Columbia University
Bridging the digital divide for health in Harlem

State University of New York at Albany
Preventing chronic disease through community interventions

University of Rochester
Understanding health risks among the deaf and hard of hearing
North Carolina
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Reducing obesity among ethnic minority women in rural North Carolina
University of Oklahoma
Promoting health and preventing disease among Native Americans
Oregon Health & Science University
Addressing vision and hearing loss in American Indian communities
University of Pittsburgh
Promoting health and preventing disease among older adults
South Carolina
University of South Carolina
Changing policies and environmental conditions to support physical activity in underserved communities
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Studying how adolescents' health choices affect their later lives

Texas A&M University
Preventing diabetes in underserved rural communities
University of Washington
Sustaining physical activity among older adults
West Virginia
West Virginia University
Improving health among rural teenagers
  • The NIMH fund should fund more research that integrates social, behavioral, and genetic risk factors into prevention interventions.
  • More research should be conducted on strategies, programs, and community interventions to prevent depression and aggression.
  • The NIMH should fund more research on common sets of risk factors that occur early in life and lead to a variety of adolescent and adult disorders. Specifically, the workgroup advised research about these early risk factors and about interventions to modify these early risk factors in order to eliminate or at least reduce their impact and resultant negative outcomes.
  • There should be increased emphasis on theory and research on the adoption, implementation, and dissemination of prevention research findings.


Family, friends, active interests, and community involvement may do more than simply help people enjoy their lives. Social activities and relationships actually may enable people to live longer by preventing or delaying development of many diseases, including dementia. During the past two decades research has demonstrated that social experiences, activities, relationships, and work stress are related to health, well-being, and longevity. The kind of work stress that causes the greatest harm to physical and mental health is effort-reward imbalance—when great effort is made and the effort is neither recognized nor rewarded. Although women appear more vulnerable to job stress, men's health seems more dependent on the availability of social relationships and emotional support.

Several studies have shown that marriage or living with a partner has greater health benefits for men than women, because traditionally women are caregivers. Newer findings question whether the nurturing qualities of women are solely responsible for married men's improved health. Recent research reveals that men and women living alone have better health than those with unsatisfactory relationships with their partners. An alternative explanation of these findings may be that healthier people are more likely to marry than those with health problems.

Dr. Laura Fratiglioni and her colleagues at the Stockholm Gerontology Research Centre found that among Swedish older adults, the risk of developing dementia increased with increased social isolation ("Influence of Social Network on Occurrence of Dementia: A Community-based Longitudinal Study," Lancet, vol. 355, no. 9212, April 15, 2000). The quality, rather than frequency, of social contacts was more important in staving off impairment. People who had infrequent but satisfying interactions with families and friends fared better than those with unhappy or stressful relationships. The Swedish project also suggests that a variety of strong relationships is important—a single bond is insufficient to reduce risk. Older adults with several kinds of enduring relationships such as marriage, children, friends, and relatives were at lowest risk.

A promising finding from this study is the observation that one relationship may substitute for another. This is a key concern because death of a spouse or close friend may increase the survivor's risk for social isolation. The observation that strong connections with children, relatives, and friends can substitute for relationships with spouses or partners is especially significant for widowed, divorced, or never-married older adults.

Along with personal relationships, social activities also seem to protect against disease and increase longevity, even when the activities do not involve physical exercise. An annual study tracked the health and longevity of 2,761 older adults living in New Haven, Connecticut (Thomas A. Glass et al, "Population Based Study of Social and Productive Activities as Predicators of Survival among Elderly Americans," British Medial Journal, August 21, 1999). After thirteen years the researchers determined that "social and productive activities that involve little or no enhancement of fitness lower the risk of all cause mortality as much as fitness activities do."

Recent research reiterated the health benefits of socialization. Data from the Framingham Heart Study (a landmark study of fifty years of data about the health of residents of Framingham, Massachusetts) presented at the American Heart Association's Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention in May 2005 found that men who were socially isolated had elevated levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), a blood marker for inflammation that is linked to heart disease. The investigators posited that IL-6 may be elevated in men who are socially isolated because social isolation may influence health behaviors such as smoking and physical activity, which act to raise IL-6 levels. In addition, socially isolated people are often depressed and experience more stress than their more gregarious counterparts, and research has demonstrated that stress can increase IL-6 levels (Eric B. Loucks, "Social Connections: Could Heartwarming Be Heart-saving?" Meeting Report, Abstract P226 [EPI], American Heart Association, May 1, 2005,

Pets Are More Than Best Friends: They Can Help Keep People Healthy

Research conducted during the late 1990s found that pet ownership was associated with better health. At first it was believed that the effects were simply increased well-being—the obvious delight of hospital and nursing home patients petting puppies, watching kittens play, or viewing fish in an aquarium clearly demonstrated pets' abilities to enhance mood and stimulate social interactions.

A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (vol. 47, no. 3, March 1999) found that attachment to a companion animal was linked to maintaining or slightly improving the physical and psychological well-being of older adults. Parminder Raina and his colleagues followed nearly one thousand older adults for one year and found that pet owners were better able to perform the activities of daily living and were more satisfied with their physical health, mental health, family relationships, living arrangements, finances, and friends. These findings were confirmed further by a study published in the December 2002 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine (J. Blascovich and B. Mendes, vol. 64, no. 5) using both men and women and dogs and cats.

Other research revealed the specific health benefits of human interaction with animals. One study followed people who had suffered heart attacks and found that after one year pet owners had one-fifth of the mortality rate of people without pets. Several researchers have observed that petting dogs and cats actually lowers blood pressure. The physiologic mechanisms responsible for these health benefits are as yet unidentified; however, some researchers think that pets connect people to the natural world, enabling them to focus on others, rather than simply on themselves. Other investigators observe that dog owners walk more than people without dogs and credit pet owners' improved health to exercise. Nearly all agree that the nonjudgmental affection pets offer boosts health and wellness.

Healthy People 2010

Building on the earlier reports Healthy People: The Surgeon General's Report on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (1979) and Healthy People 2000: National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives (1990), Healthy People 2010 (November 2000, is an updated plan from the HHS detailing 467 objectives in twenty-eight focus areas to improve the nation's health. Its two general goals are to "help individuals of all ages increase life expectancy and improve the quality of life" and to "eliminate health disparities among different segments of the population."

Nearly all of the Healthy People 2010 goals and objectives involve one or more of the three levels of prevention. For example, the overall goal for cancer is to "reduce the number of new cancer cases as well as the illness, disability, and death caused by cancer." To realize this goal may involve primary prevention to encourage people to avoid known carcinogens (cancer-causing agents, such as tobacco) and secondary prevention to encourage screenings to detect cancer in its earliest, most readily treatable stages. An example involving tertiary prevention action is the focus on disability and secondary conditions that seeks to "promote the health of people with disabilities, prevent secondary conditions, and eliminate disparities between people with and without disabilities in the U.S. population."

Healthy People 2010 not only sets forth ambitious goals related to disease prevention but also outlines population-specific health and prevention objectives. For example, the publication includes twenty-one objectives related to adolescent health, ranging from reducing

TABLE 2.11

Twenty-one critical objectives identified by the Adolescent Health Work Group

  • Reduce the proportion of children and adolescents with disabilities who are reported to be sad, unhappy, or depressed.
  • Reduce pregnancies among adolescent females.
  • (Developmental) Reduce the number of cases of HIV infection among adolescents and adults.
  • Reduce deaths caused by motor vehicle crashes.
  • Increase use of safety belts.
  • Reduce homicides.
  • Reduce physical fighting among adolescents.
  • Reduce weapon carrying by adolescents on school property.
  • Reduce deaths of adolescents and young adults.
  • Reduce the suicide rate.
  • Reduce the rate of suicide attempts by adolescents.
  • (Developmental) Increase the proportion of children with mental health problems who receive treatment.
  • Reduce the proportion of children and adolescents who are overweight or obese.
  • Increase the proportion of adolescents who engage in vigorous physical activity that promotes cardiorespiratory fitness 3 or more days per week for 20 or more minutes per occasion.
  • Reduce the proportion of adolescents and young adults with chlamydia trachomatis infections.
  • Increase the proportion of adolescents who abstain from sexual intercourse or use condoms if currently sexually active.
  • Reduce deaths and injuries caused by alcohol- and drug-related motor vehicle crashes.
  • Reduce the proportion of adolescents who report that they rode, during the previous 30 days, with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.
  • Reduce past-month use of illicit substances.
  • Reduce the proportion of persons engaging in binge drinking of alcoholic beverages.
  • Reduce tobacco use by adolescents.

SOURCE: "21 Critical Objectives Identified by the Adolescent Health Work Group," in Healthy People 2010: Understanding and Improving Health, 2nd edition, U.S. Government Printing Office, 2000, December 14, 2005)

violent deaths resulting from homicide and suicide to increasing seatbelt use. (See Table 2.11.)

Many Americans Believe Cancer Cannot Be Prevented

Despite widespread health and consumer education about lifestyle choices and behaviors that can help to reduce the risk of developing serious diseases, many Americans persist in the belief that there is little they can do to prevent disease. For example, a December 2005 survey commissioned by the American Cancer Society found that nearly half of survey respondents (47%) felt they had little or no control in terms of reducing their risk of developing cancer (Mike Stobbe, "Half Surveyed Doubt Cancer Preventable," Associated Press, January 19, 2006). The survey also found that 65% of people are very or somewhat concerned that they will get cancer. About 70% of people ages thirty-five to fifty-four were very or somewhat concerned, compared with 62% of people ages fifty-five to sixty-four, 55% of people ages sixty-five to seventy-five, and 47% of people seventy-five and older.

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