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Psychiatric diagnoses may increase the risk for young people to commit crime

Rebecca Siponen standing in the lobby of Entréhuset.

Rebecca Siponen’s thesis shows that there are risk factors that can be identified at an early age, which are linked to an increased risk of committing crimes in youth, being involved in an accident, or suffering an early death.

Psychiatric diagnoses such as ADHD, substance abuse, and depression may increase the risk for young people to commit crimes – especially among women. This is shown by Rebecca Siponen’s doctoral thesis in criminology at Örebro University.

Rebecca Siponen says, “This knowledge may be used to prevent young people from being involved in serious criminality."

Rebecca Siponen’s thesis deals with young people between 15 and 20 years convicted of crimes. Her research shows that psychiatric diagnoses such as ADHD, drug or alcohol abuse, and depression are risk factors for committing crimes in youth. There is also an increased risk of accidents and early death among young offenders.

“The strongest correlation was observed among individuals who have multiple diagnoses of these disorders simultaneously, such as substance abuse and ADHD. Certain types of psychiatric diagnoses and combinations of diagnoses seem to drive an increased risk of committing crimes or being involved in accidents and early death. On the other hand, other diagnoses such as autism or intellectual disability seem to be associated with a lower risk of criminality compared to the general population,” says Rebecca Siponen.

Higher risk for women – and victims of violence

Women with psychiatric diagnoses have a higher risk of committing crimes compared to men with similar diagnoses, according to the thesis.

“One explanation could be disparities in diagnosis between the genders. It’s often the case that women require more severe symptoms to receive a diagnosis compared to men. Therefore, increased crime risk among women may reflect more severe forms of the disorders,” explains Rebecca Siponen.

The thesis also shows that youth offenders who are also victims of violence during childhood or adolescence have an increased risk of reoffending. A psychiatric diagnosis makes no difference, as Rebecca Siponen’s thesis states.

“I expected an increased risk of reoffending among those with a psychiatric diagnosis compared to those without, but it turned out that the risk was equally high in both groups, which suggests that exposure to violence is a critical factor. Therefore, it’s important that those who’ve been exposed to violence receive support and treatment,” she says.

Identifying young people at risk

Rebecca Siponen hopes her research will make it easier to identify children and young people who are at risk of committing crimes, suffering an accident and early death. Previous research in the area has mainly focused on adults.

“This is important knowledge for everyone working with children, adolescents, and youth offenders who have a psychiatric diagnosis, have been exposed to violence, or have a parent who has committed crimes or have a psychiatric diagnosis themselves.”

Identifying risk factors is crucial to directing the correct interventions to the right individuals, improving outcomes, and using society’s resources more effectively.

“Right now, we’re seeing a growing problem with young people involved in serious criminality. Therefore, it’s essential that society focuses on preventing youth from getting involved in crime, but also that working preventively so young people already involved in criminality and who are at risk of other negative outcomes in their future,” says Rebecca Siponen.

Text: Anna Lorentzon
Photo: Anna Lorentzon
Translation: Jerry Gray