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Research Finds Screenings Help Detained Youth with Mental Health Issues


While Indiana is ahead of the curve when it comes to juvenile justice reform, a new study in the American Journal of Public Health indicates there remains room for improvement.

As part of the study, the stays of more than 25,000 juveniles were examined. Indiana is one of only two states that have implemented mental health screenings in juvenile detention centers.

Professor Matt Aalsma, a study co-author and associate professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine, says his team found particularly high rates of mental health issues and inconsistencies in available services. He says their findings also suggest youths need to be connected with mental health services after they return to their communities.

"It's so important for them to get that treatment when they return home," says Aalsma. "We know that effective, timely mental health treatment can reduce recidivism and lead to lower criminal activity in the future."

According to the study, 21 percent of youths screened positive for mental health issues requiring some kind of follow-up, and 61 percent did receive appropriate follow-up services or a referral while detained or upon their discharge. Aalsma says the size and location of the detention centers varied widely, which may have contributed to the availability of services in some areas.

Aalsma also says youths in juvenile detention can suffer from a wide spectrum of mental health problems including depression, ADHD, PTSD, and substance abuse. He says it's critical they get the treatment they need.

"The youths that come to detention tend to be low-income," he says. "There are higher rates of minority representation, and in general it's a vulnerable population. We want to care for them for their own sake, as well as for community safety."

Moving forward, Aalsma says it's important the state maintain universal mental health screening, and provide the best evidence-based therapies possible so youths can get effective and timely mental health care.

The findings were published in the October issue of the American Journal of Public Health.