Childhood Disorders May Predict Later Criminality
> 11/19/2007 1:55:16 PM

Mental health-related disorders, particularly those of the personality, anxiety and impulse control varieties, have long been noted as disproportionately common among the ranks of violent offenders. New research drawn from a longitudinal study seems to confirm the long-held suspicion that children who suffer from various psychiatric disorders are far more likely to fall into criminal behavior during early adulthood. Certain conditional combinations may even predict the types of crimes that will most likely be committed - with a frightening degree of accuracy. Researchers claim that as much as 20% of young adult crime can be traced directly to the presence of mental health issues encountered in childhood.

Research has not yet made significant efforts to clarify the connection between childhood psychiatric instability and later trends in criminality, but a more-than-coincidental relationship between the two variables has been noted in the past, and surveys of prison populations back up that inital association: 10-15% of the residents of city, county and state jails currently suffer from some form of mental illness, and 50 to 75% of the residents of juvenile correctional facilities have been estimated to qualify for one or more mental disorder diagnoses. The current survey examined 1420 individuals drawn from another longitudinal study of psychiatric disorders and courses of treatment among children in North Carolina. Researchers divided the group into three groups based on the age of each subject at the project's inception: 9, 11 or 13 years of age. The children were examined and tested for mental health issues each year until they turned 16, after which their records were monitored to determine rates of offense and incarceration.  individuals who commit crimes in early adulthood are twice as likely to have suffered from some form of mental illness in childhood.

Nearly 1/3 of all 1420 children met the criteria for at least one mental illness at one or more of the yearly assessment points; nearly the same percentage were arrested at some point between the ages of 16 and 21. And within the group that had been arrested, approximately half had met criteria for some form of mental illness before the age of 17. Researchers stress that readers not draw too many implicative conclusions from the data at hand; their numbers do not imply that a near-majority of juvenile crimes may be directly attributed to mental illness or that the elimination of such disorders in the sample population would reduce crime rates by half.

Most disturbing was the escalating proportional relationship between childhood disorders and crimes of a severe or violent nature: patients who'd been diagnosed with any sort of DSM-IV condition during their childhood were nearly four times as likely to perpetrate one of this most serious class of crimes. The greatest likelihood of extreme criminality came, unsurprisingly, from the combination of major mood and personality disorders complicated by substance abuse. Patients with comorbid anxiety and substance abuse disorders were nearly 10 times as likely as control subjects to commit violent or severe crimes; those with depression and drug or alcohol problems were 12.6 times as likely. Substance abuse habits contribute more to the development of a criminal disposition than do emotional disorders.

Most serious or violent crimes, of course, stem from any number of causal factors beyond the mental health status of the perpetrator, and most children who suffer from mental illness do not go on to become criminals. But children who qualify for multiple diagnoses are considerably more likely to engage in illegal activities of all degrees, particularly while under the influence of substances of abuse, and the pre-emptive treatment of childhood psychiatric disorders may prove to be a significant step in the fight against crimes committed by adolescents and young adults. Paranoias regarding the image of one's child as a criminal will lead nowhere; a growing awareness of the mental health problems experienced by children everywhere will create a better understanding of the problem and facilitate the development of more effective approaches to curbing young adult crime rates. A child suffering from mental illness of any kind is not a lost cause, and he or she should be treated with support and love no matter how much greater the supposed risk of future offence.

No comments yet.

Post Your Comments

Post a comment
Email Address:
Verification Code:
Input the 8 characters you see above:


Drug Abuse
Sexual Addiction
Eating Disorders
Alzheimer's Disease

About TOL | Contact Us | Defining Behavioral Fitness | For Healthcare Professionals | Links | Privacy Policy