Who practices prevention?

Everyone practices prevention.  You practice prevention.  When you tie your shoes in the morning or lock your doors at night, you’re practicing prevention.  Why?  Because you are preempting a problem that is a) predictable and b) changeable, the two prerequisites to being preventable.  Let me explain those prerequisites with an illustration.

The Example of the Arrow

woman with apple on headImagine you’re tied to a tree with an apple on your head.  A man fifty feet away from you plans shoot the apple with a bow and arrow.  You see him put the arrow in the bow, and you watch him lift the bow and aim it at you (or at least near you).  This is a problem: there’s a very good chance he’ll miss the apple and hit you instead.  It is also a predictable problem because you can see it coming: you can see that he’s drawing back the bow.  Still, it’s not a changeable problem.  You’re tied to the tree and can’t move.  All things considered, this is not a preventable problem.

Now imagine that you’re still standing with an apple on your head, but you’re no longer tied to a tree; instead, you’re blindfolded.  The man with the bow and arrow is still preparing to shoot the apple from off the top of your head.  This is still a problem.  It’s a changeable problem because you could conceivably duck and run, but it’s not a predictable problem because you can’t see it coming.  All things considered, this is still not a preventable problem.

Now consider a third situation.  You’ve still got an apple on your head and a man who wants to shoot it with a bow and arrow.  This is still a problem.  But this time you have your body unbound and your eyes uncovered.  You also have a friend nearby to warn you, an electronic early-warning alarm system for arrows, a metal shield, a concrete barrier, an up-armored Humvee, a great pair of Olympic track shoes, a grenade, an AK-47, and close air support waiting on your signal.   This is now not only a predictable problem but also a changeable one.  All things considered, it is now a preventable problem.

You may not face such unusual preventable problems in your daily life, but the illustration still applies: you still face preventable problems.  And to solve these preventable problems you practice prevention.

The Professional Preventionist

Because all individuals practice prevention, it’s a foregone conclusion that all groups of individuals practice it too.  Still, some groups practice it more than others.  These are the groups that face the greatest volume of preventable problems.  Take the health fields, for example.  Health professionals face problems that are highly predictable and highly changeable—in other words, highly preventable—on a daily basis.  Whether the diagnosis is substance abuse, diabetes, or the flu, it’s often a preventable diagnosis.  For this reason many wellness-related organizations have embraced prevention.  Such organizations include health departments, hospitals, and federal agencies like the CDC and SAMHSA.

The field of behavioral health also aligns well with the philosophy of prevention.  Behavioral health is the “state of mental/emotional being and/or choices and actions that affect wellness.” (1)

1 http://captus.samhsa.gov/prevention-practice/prevention-and-behavioral-health/behavioral-health-lens-prevention/1