“People are just not reaching us where we are at. We want to be reached.” – Washington, D.C. focus group youth participant.

The mental well-being of our youth is crucial to achieving progress and prosperity in our communities. In Washington, DC, youth face particular challenges as disparities in resources and risks vary drastically in just a matter of miles. I wrote JPI’s report, Mindful of the Consequences: Improving the Mental Health for DC’s Youth Benefits the District, to show that current prevention and treatment services do not match the level of need and many youth are at risk for contact with the justice system due to untreated mental problems. To illustrate this, I mapped where arrested youth are coming from: predominately areas of low income and high rates of risk factors that impact mental well-being.

Some D.C. leaders will criticize this report citing the millions of dollars being spent already on mental health – as if that should be enough. My challenge to D.C. leaders is to admit that what is being done is not enough. Too many children are suffering from poor mental health while not receiving the attention needed. Too many youth are being misunderstood when their cry for help looks like aggression. Far too many are being penalized and channeled into a lifetime of involvement with the justice system just because it was too expensive to…invest in psychologists.

Melissa Neal, DrPH, is Senior Research Associate for the Justice Policy Institute. A longer version of this post appears on their Just Policy Blog.

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