New study finds a link between mental illness and delinquency

Teens who suffer from mental illness, and feel excluded from their schools, communities and families are more likely to engage in delinquent behaviour, a new study says.

The study, "Improving the Health of Canadians: Mental Health, Delinquency and Criminal Activity", conducted by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that 12- and 13-year-old kids who are hyperactive and depressed are more susceptible to delinquent behaviour like vandalism or destruction. By contrast, youth aged 12 to 15, who have good stress-management skills and high self-esteem, have more chances of never engaging in aggressive behaviour.

The study also showed that 21 per cent of youth who said their parents often yelled at them or threatened to hit them said that they often engaged in aggressive behaviour. Overall, only 10 per cent of youth claimed to act aggressively.

Mental illness and difficulty fitting into society are factors that can make youths more likely to engage in destructive behaviours when they are young and as they grow into adulthood, the study says.

Phil Upshall, president of the Mood Disorders Society of Canada, told Canada AM that the study should finally make clear to governments, schools, community groups and families that sending at-risk kids to jail will only cause them greater problems in the future.

"Give us the opportunity to remove, hopefully, a significant number of kids from the criminal system and put them in the health system where they belong," Upshall said.

"Once you're into the criminal system and are processed by it, you've got (criminal) records." explains
Annie Smith, executive director of the McCreary Centre Society in Vancouver, which conducts research and programs related to youth health issues. Smith told Canada AM that kids need to develop a sense of self-worth in order to stay out of trouble.

She stresses that what’s needed is activities that raise their engagement in community activities, raise their self-esteem, allow them the opportunity to develop skills and also to have optimism for the future.