Research in the field of psychiatric prevention is a challenging and difficult task. In principle, research in preventive psychiatry should be hypothesis driven by specification of the linkages and intervening mechanism through which interventions are expected to affect identified risk and protective factors and mediate delay or prevention of disorders.
But the true impact of a prevention effort might not be observed for many years after the initiation of the program. As such, measurement issues are of major importance. However, resource constraints, together with the difficulties of sustaining contact with program participants, interfere with implementing the long-term follow up studies that would be necessary to assess the program effects. Additionally, there are implementation issues, e.g. it is doubtful that the prevention program long since delivered is fully responsible for effects seen many years later. Another challenge in prevention research is the need for flexible methodologies appropriate to the realities of naturalistic settings.
Describing such complexity, it is obvious that research methods in preventive psychiatry are situated at the interface among social sciences, epidemiological research, treatment research, evaluation research and biostatistics. Accordingly, some methodological concepts out of these fields will be presented and discussed related to the topics of preventive psychiatry.
W. Roessler, Prof., Dr. Med. Dipl.-Psych.
Psychiatric University Hospital, Zurich