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Kids Don’t Have Real Problems? Mental Health and Juvenile Delinquency

Chair circle

People would think this is the “mental health” era, suggesting the use of the term and the discussion around it is more of a trend than an actual crisis. Extremism exists and it’s part of human behavior, but we can’t obviate important topics that affect us in all life aspects. What has happened is, the stigma surrounding mental health has decreased and there are more accessible communications channels to share our experiences. Now everyone, including children and professionals, are one click away from information and the rest of the world.

From my perspective, it is uncommon in some cultures to consider children as individuals with their own opinions, problems, and feelings. How many times have you heard or said, “kids don’t have real problems”? They have problems/ difficulties according to their development stage, which is extremely influenced by their environment and parents/ caregivers.

Society has created systems to hold us accountable for our behaviors contributing to fairness and order. Just as adults, children going through the juvenile court system are faced with prejudices and challenges while processing what they have done or been accused of, plus whatever family dynamic/ situation happening at the time. The correlation between mental health and juvenile delinquency is yet to be explored further to successfully find solutions.

As of February 2021, according to NAMI:

  • 128,000 North Carolinians age 12-17 have depression.

  • 7 in 10 youth in the juvenile justice system have a mental health condition.

  • High school students with depression are more than 2x more likely to drop out than their peers.

  • 53.2% of North Carolinians age 12–17 who have depression did not receive any care in 2020.

  • 1 in 4 people with a serious mental illness has been arrested by the police at some point in their lifetime, leading to over 2 million jail bookings of people with serious mental illness each year.

The thought of “discipline” and “punishment” is relevant in the legal system but not much effort is put into research to combat juvenile delinquency from the root. Juvenile Defenders do recognize children in the system are subjected to experience mental health disorders considering their background, accusation/ crime committed, and support system disposition.



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Mental Health in North Carolina Fact Sheet by NAMI Feb 2021
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