Preface

A number of scientific and intellectual trends have converged to change our understanding of mental health. Conceptions of mental health and mental disorders have broadened significantly to take into account new knowledge about the genetic, biological, developmental, social, societal, and cultural nature of human beings. Our award-winning Encyclopedia of Mental Health was the first to bring together these emerging trends in one resource, and now the contributions primarily relevant to assessment and to the mental disorders are being made more accessible to those who desire a more concise and focused reference work.

What are these mental health trends affecting our understanding of the disorders? First, our understanding has moved well beyond the artificial nature-nurture dichotomy. We know more and more about the biological underpinnings of mental states and behavior, but we also better understand how these biological tendencies unfold in a family, social, and cultural environment. Second, we have moved beyond the old "mental" versus "physical" ("mind versus body") dichotomies. To a greater extent than previously imagined, there is a strong reciprocal relation between our health and activity and our cognitions, moods, and mental well-being. Third, the experts increasingly recognize the complementary importance of prevention and treatment. A simple model of treating mental "disease" is often ultimately futile without associated prevention efforts, yet prevention cannot sensibly ignore the need for efficacious treatments. Fourth, we now emphasize primary mental health promotion—the structural, environmental, family, and cultural context of mental health. Fifth, the best scholars now recognize meaningful variations across ages, genders, cultures, families, and societies. That is, to understand fully and improve significantly a person's mental health, we need to know not only about that person's biological and personal makeup, but also about his or her age, family, work, and position in society.

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