• adolescent;
  • MAYSI-2;
  • mental health;
  • youth detention

Aim:  To screen for mental health problems in an Australian adolescent forensic population, evaluate the Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument Version 2 (MAYSI-2) in providing a preliminary assessment of those needs, and to explore the level of mental health problems in vulnerable populations within detention.

Methods:  Over a 6-month period, all young people admitted into detention were referred for screening by the MAYSI-2, a 7-scaled instrument developed to identify young people within the youth justice system at greatest risk for serious mental, emotional or behavioural disorders.

Results:  High levels of mental health problems and trauma were reported, with 75.0% of males and 90.0% of females, and 81.2% of Indigenous and 75.0% of non-Indigenous youth screening above the clinical cut-off for at least one scale. Males screened highest on the Alcohol and Drug Use (58.9%), Angry–Irritable (28.2%) and Somatic Complaints (28.2%). Females screened highest on the Alcohol and Drug Use (67.5%), Somatic Complaints (45.0%), Depressed–Anxious (42.5%) and Suicide Ideation (30.0%) scales, with significantly higher rates than males on the Depressed–Anxious, Somatic Complaints and Suicide Ideation scales. No significant differences in screening rates were reported between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth.

Conclusions:  This study confirmed the high rates of mental health problems in adolescents within youth detention. Appropriate use of screening tools improves our understanding and targets treatment of mental health problems in this cohort. We have reservations in recommending the MAYSI-2 as a valid screening tool for Indigenous young people in youth detention and recommend the development of a more appropriate screening tool.