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Psychological science has usually approached the treatment of disorder through research on individual combinations of risk and protective factors (including life experiences, thinking styles, behaviors, social relationships and genes) and the application of interventions that focus on improvements in the individual. However, we can do better than this. Not only should we be aiming to enhance well-being rather than merely reducing disorder, but we should also be doing so for the majority of people rather than the few who have a disorder. In this article, I focus on the mental health spectrum and make the case for a broad population-based approach. I argue that a very small shift in the population mean of the underlying symptoms or risk factors can do more to enhance well-being and reduce disorder than would any amount of intervention with individuals who need help. Examples from research on alcohol abuse and psychological distress are presented to illustrate the value of a population-based approach.


Institute for Positive Psychology and Education

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Journal Article

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