Youth Depression and Future Criminal Behavior

By Anderson, D. Mark; Cesur, Resul et al. | Economic Inquiry, January 2015 | Go to article overview

Youth Depression and Future Criminal Behavior


Anderson, D. Mark, Cesur, Resul, Tekin, Erdal, Economic Inquiry


I. INTRODUCTION

Major depression is a serious public health problem in the United States and around the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is the leading cause of disability and the fourth leading contributor to the global burden of disease. (1) The incidence of mental health problems also runs high among children and adolescents. For example, 8.1% of 2 million adolescents aged 12-17 experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2009 (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 2010). Furthermore, about 15 million children meet the criteria to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder (American Psychological Association 2008).

These problems constitute a major source of concern because the consequences of depression are wide-ranging and long-lasting. The literature covers a broad spectrum of outcomes influenced by depression including educational attainment (Fletcher 2008; Wilcox-Gok et al. 2004, 2010), labor market productivity (Chatterji, Alegria, and Takeuchi 2011; Fletcher 2013; Marcotte and Wilcox-Gok 2003; Ruhm 1992), substance use (Greenfield et al. 1998; Rao, Daley, and Hammen 2000; Swendsen and Merikangas 2000), and risky sexual behavior (Ramrakha etal. 2000; Shrier et al. 2001; Stiffman et al. 1992). Moreover, the economic burden of mental health disorders is substantial. It has been estimated that annual treatment and disability payments are roughly $83.1 billion, while the indirect costs associated with productivity loss are roughly $51.5 billion per year (Ettner, Frank, and Kessler 1997; Greenberg 2003). Because of the substantial economic and social costs that depression and other mental illnesses impose on society, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has identified improving mental health as a vital objective. Accordingly, the goal set by the government is to achieve a 10% reduction in the proportion of adolescents who experience a major depressive episode by the year 2020. (2)

Not surprisingly, the association between mental health and criminal activity has received considerable attention in the literature. Research has shown that individuals with mental health disorders face higher arrest rates, have records of past violence, and are more likely to be victims of crime themselves (e.g., Choe, Teplin, and Abram 2008; Donnellan et al. 2005; Elbogen and Johnson 2009; Teplin et al. 2005; Trzesniewski et al. 2006; White et al. 2006). It has also been documented that adult prisoners and incarcerated adolescents suffer from mental illnesses at much higher rates than the general population (e.g., Marcotte and Markowitz 2011). (3) More specifically, studies have identified depression as a motiving factor for criminal behavior (e.g., Broidy and Agnew 1997; Piquero and Sealock 2004; Swartz and Lurigio 2007; Woddis 1957-1958). Depression has frequently been linked to acts of violence such as homicide (Benezech 1991; Benezech and Bourgeois 1992; Malmquist 1995). On the other hand, several studies have argued that depression may decrease delinquent behavior because it reduces an individual's energy and desire to act (Agnew 1992; Broidy 2001; Mazerolle and Piquero 1997).

While associations between mental health and crime and, more specifically, depression and crime have been considered in the literature, the existing studies contain limitations. First, much of the previous work has been descriptive in nature. (4) These studies are usually motivated by the observation that mental health problems are more common among incarcerated groups (e.g., Silver, Felson, and Vaneseltine 2008; Teplin 1990; Wallace et al. 1998) or that criminal behavior is higher among individuals with mental health disorders (e.g., Hodgins 1992; Swanson et al. 2002).

Second, most previous studies use cross-sectional data to study the relationship between mental health and crime. Exceptions include several cohort studies that follow individuals over time to illustrate that those suffering from mental health disorders are more likely to exhibit criminality or become incarcerated (e. …

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