Preventing mental illness

11:00am-12:00pm, Mar 20, 2017

Rudy North Lecture Theatre, Lower Level, Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health
Dr. Rudolf Uher, Dalhousie University


Severe mental illness including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression is one of the most costly and burdensome health conditions to the affected individuals, their families and society. The outcomes of severe mental illness may be poor because it onsets early in life and individuals present to services at a late stage. If we can identify risk early, pre-emptive interventions may positively influence the brain development and prevent disability. I will outline recent developments towards early indicated prevention of severe mental illness, including the Families Overcoming Risks and Building Opportunities for Well-Being (FORBOW) study of youth at risk. Youth aged 1-24 years have been enrolled through identified parents and followed up annually with diagnostic and risk assessments. One in two eligible youth are randomly selected to be offered the Skills for Wellness (SWELL), a personalized skills-learning intervention based on cognitive-behavioral therapy. We have found that antecedents including affective lability, anxiety, psychotic symptoms and basic symptoms strongly predict new onsets of severe mental illness and allow effective selection of individuals for early intervention.  SWELL is highly acceptable to youth and effectively targets these antecedents. Ongoing projects aim to answer questions about personalization, timing and the long-term effects of early interventions on mental and physical health.


Dr. Rudolf Uher is the Canada Research Chair in Early Intervention and a Professor of Psychiatry at Dalhousie University. Dr Uher studied medicine and neurosciences at Charles University in Prague and trained in Psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital in London, UK. In 2013, Dr Uher launched the FORBOW program with the aim to prevent mental illness in youth (; Twitter: @ProjectFORBOW). Dr. Uher is the editor of the journal Depression and Anxiety, he consults for the World Health Organization on the classification of mental disorders and works on the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases. Dr. Uher is an author of 180 articles on mental illness, its causes and treatment. Dr Uher treats people for depression and bipolar disorder at the Mood Disorders Program at the QEII hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia.