Around one-half of juvenile detainees have at least two mental health disorders, according to new study findings. And more than 1 in 10 have both a severe form of mental illness and a drug addiction, the authors report.
Around one-half of juvenile detainees have at least two mental health disorders, according to new study findings. And more than 1 in 10 have both a severe form of mental illness and a drug addiction, the authors report. The findings are based on screenings of residents at a detention center in Cook County, Illinois. If this center is representative of others, the U.S. may detain up to 47,000 young people with at least two psychiatric disorders on any given day. Previous research has shown that young people held in detention centers have a high rate of mental health problems, and having more than one psychiatric disorder raises special concerns, study author Dr. Karen Abram of Northwestern University in Illinois told Reuters Health. When treating a person with multiple disorders, it is often important to know which disorder arose first, and many treatment programs are set up to handle only “pure types,” or people with one disorder, Abram said. To prevent detained youths with psychiatric problems from continuing a cycle of trouble and re-detainment, Abram recommended that officials in the justice system team up with mental health experts to diagnose young detainees with mental health problems and make sure they receive help when released. “Some of these kids might stop getting into so much trouble if they got the help they needed,” Abram said. To evaluate the rate of multiple psychiatric disorders among detained youths, Abram and her colleagues screened 1829 detainees between the ages of 10 and 18 for psychiatric disorders. All participants were in detention because they were waiting for a trial or serving out a sentence of less than 30 days. Among detainees, girls were more likely to have at least two psychiatric disorders, Abram and her team report in the Archives of General Psychiatry. In an interview, Abram explained that girls may be more prone to multiple disorders than boys because people are often slower to think of girls as “bad,” and are more inclined to treat them leniently than to arrest them. As a result, “girls probably have to be a lot ‘badder’ than boys to get in” to a detention center, Abram said. Previous studies have shown that up to 70 percent of youthful detainees have at least one psychiatric disorder, a much higher rate than that seen in the general population. This could mean that many young people may get into trouble as a result of a poorly treated mental health problem, Abram noted. “There really is an amazing dearth of mental health services, and there certainly is a dearth of quality mental health services” available to young people, she said. Helping young offenders with mental health problems should be a priority, Abram added. “I think it’s unlikely these kids are going to get better without help,” she said. “They need more people on their side.” (Source: Reuters, MEDline Plus, Archives of General Psychiatry, November 2003.)