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Is depression linked to violence? Teenage mental health sufferers are TWICE as likely to have a criminal record compared to the general population

  • Up to 7% of adolescent mental health sufferers have criminal convictions
  • This compares with 3.6% in the general population without depression
  • High rates of depression were previously reported among juvenile detainees
  • Findings emphasise the need for early detection and intervention, say experts
  • Charity said link is exagerrated and sufferers are more often victims of crime

Up to seven per cent of teenage mental health sufferers have criminal convictions, new research has found.

This compares with 3.6 per cent in the general population without depression – double the rate.

The findings have prompted experts to suggest that depression in adolescents is linked with a modest increase in the risk of violence later on in life.

Indeed, high rates of depression have previously been reported among teenagers in juvenile detention and correctional facilities, the researchers point out.

Study author Professor Seena Fazel, from the Forensic Psychiatry Group at the University of Oxford, said the results emphasise the need for early detection and intervention.

He said: ‘This research adds to the evidence of the many potential harms of untreated depression in young people.

Increased impulsivity, hostility and poor self-regulation may explain why depressed teenagers are twice as likely to commit violent criminal offences (file photo)

‘Second, it suggests that closer liaison between criminal justice and mental health might prevent violence in high-risk individuals.’

Around 1.4% of 11-16 year-olds, or around 62,000, in the UK are seriously depressed, according to the charity YoungMinds.


Teenagers who increase their marijuana use with age have a greater risk of depression, an inability to experience pleasure and poor educational achievements in later life, recent research reveals.

Men who infrequently use cannabis at age 15 but dramatically increase their use up to 19 years old, are more at risk than those who consistently take the drug throughout their teens, a study found.

Lead author Dr Erika Forbes from the University of Pittsburgh, said: ‘We expected to see that the young men who had a high, consistent level of marijuana use would have differences in brain function.

‘However, it turned out that those who had an increasing pattern of use over their teens had the biggest differences.

‘Even though most people think marijuana isn’t harmful, it may have severe consequences for some people’s functioning, education and mood.’

Key findings  

Researchers examined the association between depression and violence later on in life from three studies in the Netherlands, UK and Finland.

The data was gathered using self-reported and clinical diagnoses of depression, along with self-reported and official convictions for violence.

In the Finnish sample, 7.1% of individuals with depression were convicted of one or more violent crimes, compared with 3.6% in the general population.

In the Dutch and UK samples, an increase in depressive symptoms was associated with a ‘significant’ raised risk of later violence.

Increased impulsivity, hostility and poor self-regulation may be to blame, suggests the report which was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP).

Dr Rongqin Yu, who was also involved in the study, said: ‘The link between depression and violence was unclear. Our longitudinal design allowed us to take into account previous violence, enabling us to test whether adolescent depression is associated with changes in violence over time.

‘We found a consistent pattern of increased risk of later violence across samples.’

Juvenile detainees and psychosis

The results build on a previous study from the same Oxford team in 2008.

Adolescent detainees were around 10 times more likely to suffer from psychosis than the general adolescent population.

Girls were more often diagnosed with major depression than were boys (29 per cent compared with 11 per cent), contrary to findings from adult prisoners and general population surveys.

The link is exaggerated says charity

But mental health charity Mind said over-simplifying the findings of the new research can create stigma for sufferers.

Stephen Buckley said: ‘It is clear from all the research around violence and mental health that any risk is very small and is often over-exaggerated, which is unhelpful as it reinforces negative stereotypes.

‘One in four of us will experience a mental health problem in any given year, and very few will be dangerous or violent.

‘In fact, research shows people with mental health problems are far more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators.

‘It’s important to make sure people get the help and support they need as early as possible to help them cope with their mental health problems and live the life they want to lead.’

If you are worried about any aspect of your child’s mental health, you can call the charity YoungMinds’ free parents’ helpline on 0808 802 5544 for advice.