Depression Screening Useful in Juvenile Justice System
> 2/4/2008 2:51:54 PM

Many of the youths who get funneled into the juvenile justicesystem are released without incarceration, only to find themselves in amore serious criminal, or mental health, institution as adults. Whileconspicuous behavior problems are often detected and addressed, thereis no systematic evaluation of these kids for emotional problems.Highlighting the feasibility and importance of such evaluations, theJournal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs published a study this month about depression screenings.

Thestudy, conducted by the Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center,evaluated 208 subjects arrested between the ages of 15 and 21, 27 ofwhom were diagnosed with depression. Subjects with depression were muchmore likely to abuse substances, engage in risky sexual behavior, andattempt suicide. These hazardous behaviors were predictable even at thefirst arrest, and the authors of the study believe that the link shouldbe used to give more at-risk youth special attention. The danger fromdrug abuse and unsafe sex adds up; many of the older youths already hadHIV. The state has limited resources, but it might be possible toshort-circuit many destructive patterns if government counselors areassigned to the depressed youth most likely to become trapped in them.

Itwas not within the scope of this study to determine whether depressioncauses reckless behavior, or whether it merely correlates with it. Evenif it is not the cause, it would still be worthwhile to screen fordepression. Depression is not only a warning sign that recklessbehavior is more likely, it also a crippling mental problem that isitself a problem worth addressing because it can drain all of the joyout of a life. Lifting the terrible burden of depression should be ahigh priority for the juvenile justice system, and simple evaluationslike those employed by the Bradley Center can go far towards achievingthat goal if they are made routine for every troubled youth enteringthe system.

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