This month, the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court in Cleveland will open its first mental health court, to make sure kids get help rather than primarily focus on their crime, says the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The decision was bolstered by a study of more than 200 juveniles arrested and brought into the county detention center in the last five years.
The study found that 26 percent of males and 52 percent of females screened had a severe mood disorder, such as bipolar disorder or depression; 63 percent of the kids had had both a mental health and a substance abuse problem diagnosed. The program will start small with 12 kids and Juvenile Court Judge Kristin Sweeney as its only judge. Sweeney, who observed the problem of juvenile mental illness as a public defender, said the court is designed to recognize the lifelong implications of mental illness — and that treating the young people will make the community safer. Simply sending mentally ill kids through the system doesn’t solve the problem. “The mental illness doesn’t just go away,” she said.