Meurk C, Steele M, Yap L, Jones J, Heffernan E, Davidson S, Nathan S, Donovan B, Sullivan L, Schess J, Harden S, Butler T.
Background: Justice involved youth experience mental health issues at a higher rate compared to young people without justice involvement. The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence of mental disorder among young people (14-17 year olds) involved in the justice system living in the community.
Methods: Four hundred and sixty five young people participated in the survey between 2016 and 2018 in Western Australia and Queensland. The Strengths and Difficulty Questionnaire (SDQ) was used to measure emotional and behavioural problems in the cohort of young people and was compared with young people in the community who were surveyed as part of the Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing.
Results: Of the 465 young people surveyed (276 boys and 169 girls), 44% identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. The proportion of young people with abnormal scores on the SDQ was highest on the conduct problems scale followed by the hyperactivity scale (37.8% and 26.9% ‘abnormal’ respectively). Consistently higher rates of emotional and behavioural difficulties were observed in justice involved young people compared with the general population on all subscales of the SDQ.
Conclusion: The proportion of young people scoring ‘abnormal’ on the total difficulties score indicates a substantial risk of clinically significant problems for this cohort. The elevated levels of emotional and behavioural issues in justice involved young people highlights a need for early childhood interventions and access to services for this vulnerable group.
Dr Jocelyn Jones identifies as a Nyoongar woman and holds a Masters in Applied Epidemiology and PhD. Dr Jones has extensive experience working in health and justice, and working in both Aboriginal community controlled health services and in senior management positions in the Department of Health. She is an early career researcher and in the last 5 years has made significant contributions to Aboriginal health and social well being through her work with Aboriginal prisoners and juvenile justice.