Changing Direction: Mental Health Needs of Justice-Involved Young People in Australia

This report presents findings on the mental health of 465 justice-involved young people. Findings are drawn from a wider survey of the mental, sexual and reproductive health of young people (14–17 years old) in contact with the justice system (MEH-JOSH study) conducted in Queensland and Western Australia between 2016 and 2018. This survey aimed to overcome key knowledge gaps of this group who are often underrepresented in, or excluded from, research and community surveys. This information should assist health services providers, policy makers and community organisations to plan appropriate public health responses for young people who are both at risk of or currently involved in the justice system.

Key findings
  • Three-quarters of the sample (75%) reported that they had experienced some form of non-sexual abuse (i.e. physical, verbal, financial, emotional or neglect).
  • Almost one-half (44%) of young people had experienced at least one head injury with a loss of consciousness in their life.
  • Over half (54%) of the justice-involved young females reported high or very high levels of psychological distress; much higher than their female counterparts in the Australian community (35%). The rate of high or very high psychological distress was twice as high in justice-involved young males (33%) compared with young males in the community (17%).
  • 23% reported having ever attempted suicide, and 14% reported that they had made a suicide attempt in the past 12 months. Rates of having ever attempted suicide were nearly six times as high among justice-involved young people compared with their peers in the general population.
  • Rates of mental disorder, including alcohol use disorders, were high among this sample, with about two-thirds having at least one mental disorder. One-third (33%) met diagnostic criteria for two or more mental disorders assessed.
  • Under one-third (30%) of young people surveyed reported that they had utilised a health service for emotional or behavioural problems in the past 12 months.