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Keywords:

  • adolescent;
  • Indigenous population;
  • mental health;
  • substance use;
  • youth detention;
  • youth justice system

Aim:  To determine whether there are different health needs associated with differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth in detention in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

Methods:  All records of young people (aged 10 to 21 years) taken into detention in Brisbane Queensland over the period 1 July 2001 to 30 June 2009 were reviewed, and data were extracted documenting the mental health and related behaviours of those referred to the Mental Health, Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Service. International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems – Tenth Revision (ICD-10) criteria were applied to a clinical interview. ICD-10 diagnostic outcomes and reason for referral are presented by Indigenous status and age.

Results:  Young male (under 14 years of age) Indigenous respondents are substantially over-represented in youth in detention. Indigenous youth in detention are disproportionately referred and diagnosed with a substance use problem. Referral and diagnosis of substance use problems was not as commonly found for non-Indigenous youth.

Conclusions:  Young Indigenous persons are substantially over-represented in those taken into detention in Queensland. This study shows significant differences in relation to mental health and substance use assessment outcomes for Indigenous and non-Indigenous young people in youth detention in Queensland. Further research focusing on service delivery for Indigenous young people should focus on their specific needs.