It looks like it might actually be possible to "immunize" our children against one of the afflictions most feared by all parents--mental illness. A recent study by Judy Garber, PhD of Vanderbilt University that was published in the reputable journal JAMA(Journal of the American Medical Association) provides some hope.
It is known that adolescents with depressed parents are more likely to develop major depression themselves. Whether there is a genetic component to this or can be attributed to environmental factors is not what matters here. What matters is that Dr Garber's work shows that a group of adolescents who have been depressed in the past and were considered at risk for serious depression could be taught techniques that helped to significantly lower their symptoms when studied nine months later.
The techniqes are called cognitive behavioral therapy and can be as simple as teaching a patient to "think positively." They are also taught problem solving skills, and ways to recognize and "re-frame" negative or potentially self-destructive thoughts. Cognitive behavioral techniques are often just a translation of age-old ways of looking at the world and helping people manage daily stresses.
The Vanderbilt treatment program included eight weeks of 90 minute group sessions and then monthly "booster" sessions for small groups of students. Parents were also involved in two informational meetings.
What Garber's work suggests to me is that we should probably start thinking of mental health prevention as part of our plan for our children in the same way that vaccinations and "physicals" are. Kids deserve a "mental" at every visit to their health care provider. I might even go so far as to say that our schools should begin to consider "emotional education"(Emo-Ed, can't you see it now?) as well as physical education in our curricula. Good mental health is not a given, but it can be taught.