Mental health conditions such as high blood pressure

Mental health is an ever-growing concern on a
worldwide basis. In the UK there is a possible teenage mental-health crisis as
studies over the last 25 years show that rates of depression and anxiety in
teenagers have increased by 70% and the amount of youth entering A&E with a
psychiatric condition has more than doubled since 2009. (Bedell, 2016) Before going any further with this subject, the way
in which we attempt to define ‘Mental Illness’ should be discussed as this
plays a massive role in the actual clinical diagnosis of any mental health
condition. Health care professions all across the globe make use of the latest
version of the DSM (DSM-V) in an attempt to collect many ideas about what
different mental health illnesses could be, despite there not being an easily
recognisable set of symptoms, as there are for health conditions such as high
blood pressure or diabetes for example. Each mental health condition affects
each individual differently and manifests in a multitude of different ways. As
a result, there is no solid definition for mental health disorders and is
currently simply defined by Stein et al
(2010) as “a clinically significant behavioural or psychological syndrome
or pattern…associated with present distress, or disability, or with a
significantly increased risk of suffering, death, pain, disability or an
important loss of freedom”- the definition that was first included in DSM-III
and DSM-III-R. The definition also encompasses the fact that this mental
illness cannot be a response to a specific life event at one particular period
of time, for example the death of a loved one or deviant behaviour unless these
behaviours are due to a dysfunction occurring in the individual. (Stein et al., 2010)

Another discussion surrounding this topic is whether
genetic or environmental factors play a greater role in the development of
mental illness, this all in all boils down to the age-old nature vs. nurture
debate, one idea is that inherited genes may result in the development of
mental health conditions and then on the other hand there is the environmental
exposures that may be experienced before birth, exposures such as environmental
stressors, inflammatory conditions, toxins, alcohol or drugs, all of which
could possibly be linked to the development of mental illness. According to the
online article ‘Mental illness- symptoms
and causes’ brain chemistry can also be significant in the possible
development of mental health conditions when the neural networks (which carry
neurotransmitters) become damaged or altered in some way. This in turn affects
the way in which the nerve receptors work, possibly causing concerns with
regards to an individual’s mental health. Other possible risk factors include
brain injury, traumatic experiences, experience of abuse as a child and use of
alcohol or recreational drugs. Moreover, circumstances such as sexual abuse or
the breakdown of a relationship can allow a person to experience feelings of
loss or danger which could eventually lead to depressive disorders. All of
these factors whether environmental or genetic have the potential to interact
with any “genetic vulnerability” to alter brain chemistry and thereby alter the condition of this
person’s mental health. (Mayo Clinic,

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These mental health issues can result in social
isolation from friends and family, legal or financial problems, poverty or
homelessness or even self-harm or harm to others (including suicide or homicide) (Mayo Clinic, 2015)  which can in some cases result in court
sentences and jail-time, particularly for vulnerable young people. However,
there still remains the overall debate as to whether mental health conditions
in juvenile offenders are pre-existing and have caused them to enter the justice system, or elements or the justice
system itself has produced psychological
stress of some kind that leads to a mental health disorder and later, possible
reoffending in the future.


Prior to any contact with the juvenile justice
system there are numerous ways in which the probability of an adolescent committing
crimes (at times very serious crimes) can be reduced. Chartered child
psychologist Jennie Lindon states
that through the use of both positive and negative reinforcement, parental
figures to children can either dismiss or reinforce specific ‘bad’ behaviours.
However some adults unknowingly give these adolescents the attention they are
craving, thereby reinforcing this behaviour and causing it to repeat where they
should instead “choose to ignore the behaviour or, or to give it minimal
attention” and also should not “ignore the child as a person”. She goes on to
discuss how selectively ignoring unwanted behaviour is in fact more successful
and much more reliable than punishment which provides a very restrictive
message to the child, enforcing the message of “‘don’t’ rather than ‘do'” (Lindon, 2009)

Furthermore another explored possible pathway to
delinquency is children’s exposure to violence. This pattern is extensively explored
by the NatSCEV (funded by the OJJDP) which researches the extent to which exposure
to violent behaviour can possibly affect a child living in the United States. According
to the ‘Crimes Against Children Research Centre’ website, the survey addresses
multiple areas which prior to the set-up of the survey were previously not
addressed, such as the variety of violence across the demographics of gender,
race, age and family structure, as well as the different types of violence
within schools, families and also within the community. (Crimes Against Children Research Centre) Further details were
consistently released by the OJJDP in the form of a ‘Juvenile Justice Bulletin’
which detailed that after gaining knowledge on individual’s experience research
teams asked further questions with a higher focus on the child and these
specific experiences, including the location of the violence, the child’s
relationship to the perpetrator and details upon possible injuries sustained by
the child. The survey eventually led to the conclusion that youth who are considered
to be both victimised and take part in delinquent activities are seen as displaying
higher rates of mental health symptoms paired with lower level of social
support, than groups of youth who are either victims or delinquents
exclusively. Supporting evidence that “‘bully-victims’ are often the most
distressed children” and therefore are most in need of support, as they are the
adolescents who are considered more high-risk for taking part in delinquent
activities. (National Survey of Children’s
Exposure to Violence, 2013)


On the other hand, Fuller’s summary of ‘Juvenile
Delinquency: Mainstream and Crosscurrents’ states that the nature theories with
regards to delinquency state that both Body-type theories and Biosocial theory claim
that certain characteristics within adolescents can make them more likely to
commit crimes and thereby become involved in the Juvenile justice system. This
is proved by the way in which hormones are thought to in some way be responsible
for the demonstration of these antisocial tendencies, for example testosterone
has previously been linked to a general increase in aggression. However,
Anthony Walsh (American Criminiologist) objects to these biological theories in
relation to crime stating they are “deterministic and socially dangerous” on
the basis that “crime is socially constructed so there can’t be any genes for
crime” (Fuller, 2013) This gives the
idea that we are all born as a blank-canvas and that our environmental factors
play a much larger role in this nature vs. nurture debate of the causes of
Juvenile delinquency.


Media influences such as TV and video games has been
considered in more recent years to be very impactful upon behaviour of children
and young people, through its depictions of pro-social and anti-social
behaviour. According the work of Kaplan
(2012) Emanuel Tanay, MD (retired Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Wayne
State University) states that “violence in the media has been increasing and
reaching proportions that are dangerous” and in accordance with the Nielson
Company “Nearly two-thirds of TV programs contain some physical violence. Most
self-involving video games contain some violent content, even those for
children”. This evidence showing that as these different media outlets are
incorporating more and more violent imagery into our TV and videogames, the
more accepting we are as a society of these types of abusive, gore-ridden
images and so the more normalised it becomes, especially to impressionable
young people. According to Tanay, “mentally ill individuals are vulnerable to
dramatized violence…they are sick, and they may misinterpret something” (Kaplan, 2012) now whilst it is unfair
to assume that all people suffering from a mental health condition who are
exposed to high levels of violence in the media will react in horrific ways and
commit terrible crimes, it may not be impossible to see that there can be a
certain vulnerability around those with a mental health illness that leaves
them very open and impressionable to the violence that they are seeing. One
case study in aid of this point is the 2 teenage boys- Eric Harris and Dylan
Klebold- who murdered 12 schoolmates and one teacher whilst injuring 21 others
before killing themselves at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. The two
boys were said to have lived in a “pathological environment” and were both
heavily involved in violent video games which is said to have had some
influence in the boys committing this tragedy (Kaplan, 2012)


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