A new study, published in the July 2014 issue of Pediatrics, surveyed over 1800 children and teens from the ages of 10 to 18 who were detained at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago. The participants of the study were interviewed and then followed for up to 16 years.
Of the 111 participants who died during the follow up period, 68% were murdered and 91% of those murders were committed with a gun. The rate of violent death among delinquent females was nearly five times higher than for females in the general population. Delinquent Hispanic females were nine times more likely to die violently than the general population and delinquent Hispanic males were five times higher to die violently than the general population. In fact, when compared to troops in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, death rates in the study, for those teens between the ages of 15 to 19, were twice as high as the rate of death among soldiers.
The study also revealed that there were three main risk factors that contributed to the deaths of these teens: alcohol abuse, selling drugs, and gang involvement. Certainly, the group surveyed might be described as youth at risk.
Youth that are at-risk, meaning those who have had distressing childhoods and by virtue of their circumstances are more at risk to fail academically, occupationally, and socially. They likely had a poor or little attachment to a primary caregiver, tend to be vulnerable to harm against self and others, drug use, early sexual activity, suicide attempts, and mental illness.
Many teens who have committed crimes have untreated psychiatric disorders, according to Linda Teplin, professor psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University. For instance, they might use drugs to treat their depression and then sell them in order to afford those drugs. In addition to teen depression, two types of mental illness prevalent among at risk youth are Conduct Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
It is known in the mental health field that a teen or young adult who exhibits the traits of Conduct Disorder or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and who goes untreated, will later possess the traits of Antisocial Personality Disorder. These childhood and adolescent illnesses can be the precursor for Antisocial Personality Disorder. Approximately, 3% of the population, or about 8,100,000 individuals in the United States have Antisocial Personality Disorder. Even more people (especially those with addiction) have antisocial personality traits and exhibit antisocial behavior.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, when treated early with a comprehensive treatment plan, conduct disorder can be managed and a teen can eventually return to normal functioning. However, if not treated through therapeutic means, such as psychotropic medication and therapy, conduct disorder can become more and more complex, leading to antisocial behavior and Antisocial Personality Disorder. Teens with untreated conduct disorder will have a very difficult time adapting to the demands of adulthood and will often have trouble holding a job, staying in relationships, and avoiding the law.
It is clear teen mental health treatment is necessary earlier in a child’s life. With early mental health treatment, disorders like teen depression, Conduct Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder can facilitate the prevention of violence and early death.
“Prevention is key,” said Teplin, “We need to reduce the likelihood of teens becoming delinquent.” Certainly, if teens are arrested or somehow involved in the legal or social service system within the United States, it’s clear that there is still a need to prevent violence and destruction in their lives. Clearly, intervening early in a child’s life, particularly if he or she has a psychological illness, can save his or her life.