Good mental health is a key aspect of living a long, happy life. Access to mental health care is not always easy, though, and some communities and age groups in Washington may struggle more than others to get the help they need. In some cases, teens suffering from mental health conditions may even be more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system than to receive proper mental health care.
Mental illness among youthful offenders
According to Mental Health America, approximately 70% of minors who are in the juvenile justice system have at least one diagnosable mental illness. Juvenile offenders have much higher rates of diagnosable behavioral health conditions than their peers do among the general population. Although there are many root causes of mental health conditions, traumatic childhood experiences — which 75% of juvenile offenders have — is a common factor. Additionally, 93% of juvenile offenders have suffered adverse childhood experiences, including:
- Family and community violence
- Serious illness
The children who end up in Washington’s juvenile justice system are often there because of insufficient community-based options for treatments. Instead of getting mental health care, they are instead detained for nonviolent, minor offenses in juvenile facilities. Some experts believe this is criminalizing the mentally ill.
Children with mental illnesses and other behavioral health needs should not be automatically relegated to the juvenile justice system. Sadly, this is the reality for many teens with mental health conditions. In order to secure the help they need, parents of teens who are accused of committing crimes are well-advised to prioritize a strong defense against any and all allegations.