The highest rate of onset mental illness in Australia is in the adolescent and young adult cohorts of 12 to 25 years old.

Criminal offending also peaks in adolescence and young adulthood which makes mental illness an important factor to consider when working with youth offenders (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021).

How mental health can impact the likelihood of youth offending

The most prevalent mental health disorders among young people are alcohol and substance abuse, depression, anxiety and ADHD or other behavioural disorders. Most of these mental health issues make it difficult for young people to interact with the world in an appropriate way leading to their involvement with the criminal justice system.

Both female and male offenders are more likely to have been victims of domestic violence or been witness to domestic violence in their homes than other young people in the community (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021).

Exposure to domestic violence is traumatic for young people and this trauma can then manifest as offending behaviour, mental health disorders and domestic violence behaviours.

When young people who have been exposed to trauma repeat these learned behaviours that continues the cycle of trauma. These young people are then more likely to pass these behaviours onto their own children and the cycle continues.

To be able to break this cycle of trauma, young people need to be supported to understand the trauma they have experienced and be able to unlearn their trauma behaviours.

Young people are at the greatest risk of experiencing mental illness and participating in offending behaviour than any other group in the community (Orygen National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, 2019).

Despite the high rate of risk for young people, they are the most likely to not have access to appropriate mental health support and services. It is important for young people to have access to mental health services to improve their mental health and to change their perception of mental health issues.

Many young people involved in the youth justice system have been ordered to see a counsellor or mental health professional by the court or their solicitor which can have a negative impact on how they interact with mental health services in the future.

It is important that young people are introduced to these services in a positive way so that they can take full advantage of the support to improve their mental health and wellbeing. Families and friends of young people can start by having conversations about mental health to gauge the young person’s understanding and perception of mental health before connecting them with an appropriate counsellor or other mental health service.

Culturally appropriate services for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander young people

Another concern is the lack of culturally appropriate mental health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth offenders.

These youth may find it difficult to find mental health support that is able to integrate their culture and beliefs into their treatment and care.

These young people are disproportionately more likely to experience trauma in their lives and should be able to access mental health care that provides support without judgement and with a strong understanding of their culture (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2008).

How can Bridges Youth Bail Support help?

Bridges Bail Support Services can assist young people and their mental health in a variety of ways.

This includes:

  • Supporting young people to connect with an appropriate mental health service
  • Provide transport to relevant appointments
  • Education on mental health issues for young people and their families

Our program criteria have recently changed

Bridges Bail Support Services can assist young people who have received a caution from police, a reprimand from the court and other diversionary orders from the court (restorative justice, etc.).

Bridges Youth Bail Support can also help young people and their families improve their home life, school and work life, health and wellbeing, family relationships, and connection to culture.

What hasn’t changed is the Bridges approach. We still work closely with the young person and other stakeholders, like Police, Magistrates, Youth Justice, and the family unit to address underlying issues that may have contributed to the young person offending. Our aim is to break the cycle of offending.

You can contact Youth Bail Support via phone, email or at our Bundaberg office.

  • Phone: 1300 707 655
  • Pop into our Bundaberg office: 130 Bourbong Street (next door to Chemist Warehouse)


Read more about the Bridges Youth Bail Support Service, including referral pathways here.