The association between adverse childhood experiences and mental health problems in young offenders

Daniel Turner, Anne Jule Wolf, Steffen Barra, Marcus Müller, Priscilla Gregório Hertz, Michael Huss, Oliver Tüscher, Wolfgang Retz
European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 2020 August 2
High rates of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs, e.g., abuse and neglect) have been found in young offenders. Furthermore, ACEs seem to increase the risk of developing relevant mental health problems, in non-offending juveniles and adults. However, this association has only seldomly been addressed in offending juveniles and young adults. The present study aimed at evaluating the prevalence of ACEs and mental health problems as well as their association within a sample of male and female young offenders. Altogether, 161 adolescent and young adult offenders (16.8% females) from the youth detention center Worms (Germany) filled out questionnaires concerning ACEs and mental health problems with a focus on attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and intermittent explosive disorder. Considerable rates of mental health problems were found, e.g., a prevalence of 35.9% was found for intermittent explosive disorder. Furthermore, a greater proportion of the female offenders fell into the clinically significant category for somatic complaints, anxiety/depression, and attention problems than the male offenders. Female young offenders also reported more frequently about all forms of ACEs compared to the male offenders. Latent class analysis defined three subtypes of young offenders depending on their individual ACE patterns: (1) low ACEs, (2) mainly neglectful ACEs, and (3) multiple ACEs. ACEs were significantly associated with the occurrence of both internalizing and externalizing mental health disturbances, with the multiple-ACE subtype being most likely to report about significant mental health problems. The results of the present study point towards the relevance to routinely assess ACEs in young offenders to identify possible precursors of mental health problems and of future criminal behaviors.

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