Youth Mental Health, Mental Illness and Crime

January 22, 2018

Crime Prevention – Research Highlights 2017-H01-CP – Youth Mental Health, Mental Illness and Crime


Mental and emotional health and well-being of youth is a serious health issue in Canada that has several implications in the field of youth crime prevention as well as for the juvenile justice system. The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) reports that as much as 70% of people suffering from mental health illnesses have their onset during the years of childhood and adolescence (MHCC, 2015), and that the early onset of mental health problems and illnesses have lifelong consequences. Compelling evidence for this latter statement can be seen in Canada’s National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, conducted between 1994 and 2008, which found that children who self-report emotional difficulties at ages four to eight were four times more likely to report depression eight years later (Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), 2015). These statistics are also in line with the results of the Canadian Community Health Survey―Mental HealthFootnote1 which found that the likelihood of youth (age 15-24) coming into contact with police because of a mental or substance use disorder is significantly higher than for those aged 45 and above (Boyce, 2015).

According to the most recent reports of the MHCC (2017), in 2016, more than 7.5 million people in Canada were likely facing one of the common mental illness: major depression, bipolar disorder, alcohol use disorders, social phobia and depression (Ratnasingham et al., 2012 in MHCC, 2017b).  The same report also reveals that more than 900,000 adolescents ages 13 to 19 lived with a mental health problem or illness in Canada (MHCC, 2017a). For this group of population, substance use is the most frequent problem (9.9%), followed by anxiety (9%), mood disorders (5.2%), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) (3.9%), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) (1.9%) and conduct disorders (1.9%) (MHCC, 2017b).

These statistics show the need to better understand the links between mental illness and youth crime and the practices currently being used to serve the youth suffering from mental health disorders. As such, the purpose of this report is to examine the Canadian knowledge concerning youth suffering from mental health disorders and their involvement in crime, with particular interest in the age group 12-24, to highlight the important correlations between mental health and some specific crime issues and to identify the knowledge gaps.