The effects of racial heterogeneity on mental health: A study of detained youth across Multiple counties

Katherine S.L. Lau, Matthew C. Aalsma, Evan D. Holloway, Sarah E. Wiehe, David D. Vachon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


A majority of detained adolescents experience mental health and substance use problems. Limited research has examined the interaction between the race/ethnicity of an individual youth and county-level racial heterogeneity on adolescent mental health outcomes. Participants were identified through a statewide mental health screening project that took place in detention centers across 11 different counties in a Midwestern state during January 1, 2008, to May 10, 2010. A total of 23,831 detained youth (ages 11-18 years), identified as non-Hispanic White (46.6%), Black (43.5%), or Hispanic (9.8%), completed a mental health screener that assessed problems in alcohol/drug use, depression-anxiety, anger-irritability, trauma, somatic complaints, and suicide ideation. Census data were gathered to determine the racial heterogeneity of each county and other county-level variables. Hierarchical linear regression analyses were used to test the independent and interactive effects of youth race/ethnicity and county-level variables (including racial heterogeneity of the county) on adolescent mental health. Independent of other community characteristics, as county-level racial heterogeneity increased, mental health problems among detained youth decreased. In future research on the development and persistence of mental health problems in detained youth, both community and individual-level factors should be considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)421-430
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Orthopsychiatry
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015


  • Adolescent mental health
  • Detained youth
  • Juvenile justice
  • Racial heterogeneity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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