Nearly 2 million young people are arrested annually in the United States—and 70 percent of them suffer from a mental health condition. Many incarcerated youth are behind bars simply because they lack access to the mental health services they need.
Addressing the problem requires understanding why incarcerated youth are more likely to have mental health problems than young people in general. As it happens, 93 percent of detained juveniles report having experienced adverse events in their lifetimes, such as physical or sexual abuse, accidents, serious illness, and violence. Traumatic events often trigger mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Alarmingly, young detainees report experiencing an average of six adverse events.
Access to quality mental healthcare is crucial because incarceration often leads to violent behavior directed towards themselves or others. Detained youths are four times more likely to commit suicide than others their age. Sadly, what mental healthcare young people do receive while in custody often does them more harm than good.
Placing incarcerated young people in solitary confinement can permanently impact their mental development while increasing their risk of suicide. The practice leaves young detainers alone with their thoughts and emotions. Nevertheless, youth detention facilities use solitary confinement on 35 percent of those in custody. What’s more, while detained, they are isolated from their families when they need them most.
A Better Solution
Ideally, addressing mental health concerns would begin outside the correctional system by working to prevent, recognize, and treat mental health concerns before events lead to incarceration. Until that happens, facilities must make proper care available.
Providing access to professional and quality mental healthcare is critical to helping incarcerated youth. Assessing detainees at the beginning of incarceration must become a priority. The longer that mental disorders go untreated, the higher the likelihood becomes of a more severe condition.
Here at Rescue Mental Health & Addiction Services, we provide on-site mental health services at the Lucas County Juvenile Detention Center (JDC). Our licensed clinicians assess incarcerated young people and develop appropriate behavioral plans.
We assist detainees who are experiencing a crisis or who have previously established mental healthcare needs. Referrals originate from various sources, including the JDC staff, judges or magistrates, and individual detainees.
For detainees not already connected to mental health services, Rescue makes referrals to outpatient providers when necessary. For those needing medication management, we arrange appointments with the juveniles’ established physicians. When appropriate, we offer admissions to our Child & Adolescent Crisis Stabilization Unit.
Rescue mental health professionals are at JDC from noon to 6:30 p.m., seven days a week, seeing clients anywhere from twice a week to daily and providing a safe and therapeutic environment for incarcerated youth who are at risk of a mental health crisis.
Adverse environmental factors can easily influence young, developing minds and lead to mental health crises and incarceration for juveniles. Old detention center approaches, such as solitary confinement, are ineffective and harmful. By providing both on-site professionals and outpatient followup services, we can develop treatment plans that help detained adolescents overcome mental health disorders.