Mental Illness Drives Hospitalizations for Detained California Youth

Hospitalization for mental health problems is far more common among kids behind bars than among children and teens in the general population, a new study finds.

Juvenile inmates also have longer hospital stays, which suggests they have more serious underlying mental health problems, according to the Stanford University School of Medicine researchers.

“We know young people in the juvenile justice system have a disproportionate burden of mental illness, but I was really surprised by the magnitude of the problem, because hospitalizations typically occur for very severe illness,” lead author Dr. Arash Anoshiravani, a clinical assistant professor of adolescent medicine, said in a university news release.

The researchers analyzed nearly 2 million hospitalizations of children and teens in California over the age of 15. They found that mental health disorders accounted for 63 percent of hospitalizations among juvenile inmates, compared to 19 percent for those not in jail.

Mental health hospitalizations were more common among detained girls than boys. “If you just looked at girls, 74 percent of their hospitalizations were for mental illnesses. That’s pretty sobering,” Anoshiravani said.

Average hospital stays for mental health problems were longer for juvenile inmates than for youngsters not in jail — six days versus five days. The most common mental health diagnoses in both groups were depression, substance abuse and conduct disorders.

Many juvenile inmates’ mental health problems are the result of stressful and traumatic childhood experiences, such as being abused or witnessing violence, Anoshiravani said.

Population of focus: Children and adolescents in the California juvenile justice system

Links to resource:

Date: 2015

Journal: Journal of Adolescent Health