Disentangling Relationships Between Mental Illness and Youth Violence

According to Statistics Canada, Canadian adolescents are more likely than any other age group to commit violent crimes. This violence has enormous costs, including the suffering of victims, the fears experienced within a community and financial costs to taxpayers. A significant effect is the reduced opportunity for these youth who commit violent crimes. Researchers have recently identified mental illness as a possible contributing factor for youth violence. While most teenagers with mental illness are not violent, rates of violence appear higher in this group. Currently, researchers do not have a clear understanding of which mental illnesses increase youths’ risk and why. Dr. Jodi Viljoen will advance this understanding by providing health professionals and society in general with information about key relationships between youth violence and specific mental illnesses. Viljoen will interview 200 adolescent offenders in the community. The youths’ mental health symptoms, social context (e.g., peers), protective factors (e.g., supportive relationships with adults), and violent behaviour will be assessed regularly for a one-year period based on the following: structured interviews with youth and their caretakers, clinician rating scales, self-reporting questionnaires, and justice and mental health records. Her analyses will carefully examine the role of youths’ strengths and social context in predicting violence, as well as possible gender and ethnic differences in links between mental illness and youth violence. By identifying core risk factors and treatment needs in adolescent offenders with mental health issues, her research will help inform the development of effective strategies to prevent and treat violent behaviour in this critical age group, and will also advance BC as a premier centre in youth violence research and training.