This May, we acknowledged National Mental Health Awareness Week, which helps to shine a light on the importance of mental health, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Data shows that the mental health of youth in particular seems to be suffering at a greater magnitude than pre-pandemic. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states that 1 in 5 young adults reported disproportionately worse mental health outcomes and 3 million of the adolescent population in the United States experienced elevated suicidal ideation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, how does this affect youth who are in the juvenile justice system? Experts estimate that more than 16,000 children are held in detention centers in the U.S. At the same time, three out of four youth involved in juvenile court systems already suffer from mental health issues. And, with the COVID-19 pandemic causing additional distress, justice-involved teens' mental health disorders are consequently getting even worse.
How the Spread Raises Concern
Juvenile detention centers have been a key concern with the spread of COVID-19. Not only does tight confinement with other juveniles increase the spread of germs, but this isolation also leads to an increase in mental health issues. The anxiety of contracting the virus or of an outbreak in the facility has some justice-involved youth struggling with the thought that they will be left behind.
An essential source of social and emotional support is visitation hours from friends and family. However, some facilities in the country suspended these due to COVID-19 restrictions on visitations in 2020, and this is just one example of how juvenile detainees are being disproportionately affected by mental health issues. The lack of face-to-face interaction can cause not only the youth but the family, added distress. Having no contact, outside learning and activities, and limited to no counseling with social workers or probation officers is inevitably causing higher rates of mental health disorders and ultimately recidivism among these juveniles.
In an interview with NBC News, Vincent Schiraldi, co-director of the Justice Lab at Columbia University and former director of the juvenile corrections in Washington, D.C, said, "There's not a lot of great air circulation, and the only way to keep them from congregating is locking them in their cells, which you shouldn't do because isolation has been shown to cause extreme psychological distress.”
A Proven Youth Mental Health Assessment For Juvenile Facilities
It's more necessary than ever to address mental health issues in juvenile detention centers. It is vital to identify and support the mental health needs of young adults sooner rather than later. Additional community involvement and mental health assessment tools (such as Web MAYSI-2) for youth could help address various mental health conditions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Orbis Partners provides the Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument- Web Version 2 (Web MAYSI-2), which is a cloud-based screening tool used to help juvenile justice programs quickly identify special mental health needs in youth. This tool is administered in juvenile probation, diversion programs, and intake in juvenile detention or corrections. Additionally, Web MAYSI-2 assesses youths 12 through 17 years old who may have important, pressing behavioral health needs. "It is imperative to identify mental health needs quickly so that youth receive safe and effective treatment," said Josh Glade, Co-CEO of Empower Community Care, the parent company of Orbis Partners.
Orbis Partners provides solutions for criminal justice and human services systems, specializing in designing and implementing services for at-risk client groups. Orbis offers a unique blend of programs and services including innovative case management software applications, evidence-based interventions, and effective mental health, risk, needs, and strengths assessment tools. For more information about assessment tools related to youth mental health, visit our Youth Mental Health Assessment page by clicking here.