How Can Improving Youth Mental Health Prevent Teen Dating Violence?

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 couple looking away from each other.

Psychiatric disorders prior to dating initiation and physical dating violence before age 21: findings from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R)” (abstract). Heather L. McCauley, Joshua A. Breslau, Naomi Saito, and Elizabeth Miller. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, Vol. 50, No. 9 (September 2015).

What it’s about: Researchers McCauley, Breslau, Saito, and Miller wanted to know whether some psychiatric disorders were more likely than others to be associated with teen dating violence. They also wondered if adverse childhood experiences contributed to teen dating violence later in life. The researchers reviewed data from interviews conducted between February 2001 and April 2003, and included in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, or NCS-R. Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, NCS-R is a two-part assessment of psychiatric disorders and the other disorders, risk factors, and outcomes connected with them. 

Why read it: McCauley and her colleagues report that poor mental health is associated with teen dating violence. Little is known, however, about how those experiences differ by gender, and whether interventions to treat specific psychiatric disorders could effectively reduce teen dating violence. McCauley and her colleagues aim to use their study, which looked at a large, nationally representative sample, to see if outcomes differed for young men and women and to provide guidance for addressing youth substance use and other mental health concerns.

Biggest takeaways from the research: McCauley et al. divided the range of disorders reported by young people into the following four categories:

  1. Internalizing disorders  (i.e., those that do not cause disruptive behaviors) such as major depressive disorder, chronic depression, general anxiety disorder, sexual phobia, specific phobia, panic disorder, and bipolar disorder
  2. Externalizing disorders (i.e., those that cause disruptive behaviors) such as some forms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct disorder
  3. ADHD that does not include an externalizing disorder
  4. Substance use disorders

Researchers then compared the incidence, or frequency, of teen dating violence for youth in each category against a control group of youth with no known psychiatric disorders. They also analyzed results among male and female participants. 

Based on their analysis, the researchers found that young people with a diagnosed psychiatric disorder were more likely to experience dating violence than those in the control group—regardless of the type of disorder. However, girls with ADHD and a co-occurring substance use disorder were most at-risk.

McCauley and her colleagues recommend that teen dating violence prevention programs increase efforts to identify and treat early onset psychiatric disorders among young people because of their links with teen dating violence. They further suggest that programs for young people dealing with substance use and ADHD reinforce healthy relationship skills and other prevention strategies like raising awareness of warning signs for unhealthy relationships. With this knowledge, the authors write, young people with psychiatric disorders may be able to avoid the experience of teen dating violence.

Additional references: Look for more articles on dating violence and mental health in NCFY’s research library.

Learn more about the links between mental health and teen dating violence

Discover a study that explores gender differences in teen dating violence.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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