Professor Michael Berk

Talk: Can we prevent depression?

Prevention has made a major contribution to the achievements in reductions in cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality. However, in the field of psychiatry, similar population-level initiatives in the prevention of common mental disorders, depression and anxiety are conspicuously lacking. There is a need for effective universal preventive approaches to the common mental disorders at a population level. There has been a recent growth of research into potentially modifiable risk factors for depression. Varied lifestyle, social, psychological and biological factors contribute to vulnerability. Early childhood trauma and neglect are key risk factors. Diet, physical activity and smoking are recognized as fundamental contributors to the high prevalence non-communicable diseases. However, multiple studies now suggest that similar modifiable lifestyle behaviours are also risk factors for common mental disorders and are therefore prevention targets. This lecture aims to overview the existing literature on the prevention of common mental disorders and provide an analysis on the way forward for prevention research and implementation. Many biological, social and environmental factors are transduced via common pathways. The consensus from a large body of evidence supports the assertion that interventions to prevent mental disorders across the lifespan can be both effective and cost-effective. Psychological approaches have the largest evidence base. Addressing the social, psychological, lifestyle, medical and biological drivers in a personalized, formulation-based, and integrated manner has the capacity to reduce the overall burden of mental and non-communicable physical disease.

Michael Berk is an NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow at Deakin University, where he heads the IMPACT institute. He is listed by Thompson Reuters as amongst the world’s most influential scientific minds (2015-2020) and was awarded the Brain & Behaviour (NARSAD) Colvin Award for Mood Disorders in 2015, the Victoria Prize for life sciences in 2019, the International Society for Bipolar Disorders Bob Post award for mentorship in 2020 and the RANZCP Senior Research Award in 2021. He is past president of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders and the Australasian Society for Bipolar and Depressive Disorders. His major interests are in the discovery and implementation of novel therapies.

%d bloggers like this: