FROM THE JOURNAL OF ADOLESCENCE

Having or having had a parent in jail appears to be a risk factor for adolescent mental health problems, a Minnesota study found.

In a study of 122,180 children from the 8th, 9th, and 11th grades drawn from the 2013 Minnesota Student Survey, parental incarceration was strongly associated with higher rates of mental health problems such as internalizing, self-injury, suicidal ideation, and suicidal attempts. Children of currently incarcerated parents were two and a half to four times as likely to experience these mental health problems, and children of formerly incarcerated parents were roughly twice as likely to experience them, compared with children whose parents had not been jailed, said Laurel Davis, PhD , and Rebecca J. Shlafer, PhD, MPH , of the department of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

For youth with currently incarcerated parents, almost half reported moderate symptoms of internalizing, and more than one-third reported at least one purposeful self-injury. However, only 30% reported any type of treatment for a mental health concern, the researchers said.

Parental closeness was protective against negative mental health outcomes, they noted. “Children of incarcerated parents are a vulnerable population and they should continue to be the targets of intervention efforts aiming to buttress their personal and social resources, including strong relationships with caregivers.”

Studies suggest that an estimated 1.9 million U.S. children have a parent in a state or federal prison, and millions more have a parent in county jails.

In Minnesota alone, 2,500 young people who had a parent in jail or whose parent had been in jail reported attempting suicide, and more than 5,000 children of incarcerated or formerly incarcerated parents had reported purposely having injured themselves in the last year. “This represents an enormous challenge to our systems of care,” said Dr. Davis and Dr. Shlafer. “Identifying and intervening with these youth should be a priority with governments and social service organizations.”

Read more at the Journal of Adolescence (2017;54:120-34) .

cnellist@frontlinemedcom.com

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