Psychopathology of Youth in Custody and Detention: The impact of socialization of emotion

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Belfon, Kofi-len
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University of Guelph

This study profiled the mental health needs of youth incarcerated in southern Ontario. The objectives were three-fold. 1) To demonstrate that incarcerated youth endorsed more externalizing than internalizing difficulties on a self-report measure of psychopathology. 2) To demonstrate that incarcerated youth had cognitive vulnerabilities consistent with anxiety and depression, despite their general lack of overt endorsement of internalizing symptoms. 3) To demonstrate that socialization practices in the home and community predicted the endorsement of psychopathology, and to provide a possible explanation for this relationship by considering alexithymia as a mediating variable. The Adolescent Psychopathology Scale – Short Form, Mill Hill Vocabulary Scale, Toronto Alexithymia Scale, Family Expressiveness Questionnaire, Street Codes Questionnaire, Cultural Mistrust Inventory, and a Dot Probe task were administered to 91 adolescents incarcerated in Southern Ontario. Results indicated that incarcerated youth endorsed significantly greater externalizing than internalizing symptoms. Youth demonstrated significant attentional biases toward threatening, but not depressive faces. Negative dominant socialization practices in the home predicted the endorsement of both externalizing and internalizing symptoms, and there was partial support for alexithymia mediating these relationships. Youth who embraced community practices that socialized violence endorsed externalizing but not internalizing difficulties. These results challenge clinicians to consider the internalizing difficulties of incarcerated youth more carefully during assessment.

incarcerated youth, youth justice, attentional biases, emotion socialization, mental health, alexithymia