Study finds mental disorders persist 15 years after youth leave juvenile facilities


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

A Northwestern Medicine study found that psychiatric disorders persist 15 years after youth leave juvenile detention centers.

Jacquelyne Germain, Assistant Campus Editor

A Northwestern Medicine study found that adolescents detained as juveniles with untreated psychiatric disorders struggle long-term with mental health and life stability. 

The report, published in JAMA Pediatrics, focused on the persistence of mental disorders in adolescents 15 years after their release from detention centers, and if these effects varied by gender, race and ethnicity.

“These are not necessarily bad kids, but they have many strikes against them,” Feinberg Prof. Linda Teplin said in a news release. “Physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect are common. These experiences can precipitate depression. Incarceration should be the last resort.” 

Mental health struggles contribute to existing socioeconomic disparities, making the transition into adulthood difficult, according to the release. While wealthier adolescents also struggle with drug use and violence, Teplin said these issues are often dealt with informally and rarely result in arrest and detention. 

The study also found men were over three times more likely than women to have persisting psychiatric disorders. Feinberg Prof. Karen Abram, a co-author of the study, said in the release this may be because women become more family-oriented as they age, making positive social relationships crucial to mental well-being. 

Additionally, the study found that behavior and substance abuse issues were the most common disorders among the formerly incarcerated youth 15 years after leaving detention centers. 

Compared to Black and Hispanic adolescents, non-Hispanic White youth were 1.6 times more likely to have behavioral disorders and more than 1.3 times likely to experience substance abuse disorders following their release, according to the study. 

“We must expand mental health services during detention and when these youth return to their communities,” Teplin said. “We must also encourage pediatricians and educators to advocate for early identification and treatment of psychiatric disorders.”


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