Open Access

The associations of cumulative adverse childhood experiences and irritability with mental disorders in detained male adolescent offenders

  • Hannes Bielas1, 2,
  • Steffen Barra3Email author,
  • Christine Skrivanek4,
  • Marcel Aebi3, 5, 6,
  • Hans-Christoph Steinhausen5, 7, 8,
  • Cornelia Bessler3 and
  • Belinda Plattner4
Contributed equally
Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health201610:34

https://doi.org/10.1186/s13034-016-0122-7

Received: 11 July 2016

Accepted: 13 September 2016

Published: 22 September 2016

Abstract

Background

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and psychiatric disorders are common in juvenile detainees. Emotional dysregulation resulting from cumulated ACEs may be characterized by symptoms of irritability. The present study examined whether the accumulation of ACEs, irritability, or both predicted mental disorders in incarcerated adolescents with and without controlling for one another and for socio-demographic factors.

Methods

One hundred thirty male detained juvenile offenders (aged 13.8–19.5 years) were assessed by structured clinical interviews and a self-reporting scale for irritability. Univariate and multivariate regression models were used to examine the shared and distinct associations of ACEs and irritability with psychiatric diagnoses.

Results

A total of 75 % of the participants reported more than one ACE. The ACE total score was positively related to self-reported irritability. The ACE total score predicted depressive disorders, suicidality, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety disorders. Irritability was positively related to depressive disorders, suicidality, disruptive behavior disorder (DBD), substance use disorder (SUD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These associations remained significant in multivariate models.

Conclusions

This study provides evidence for the predictive impact of self-reported ACEs and irritability with regard to adolescent psychiatric disorders in young male inmates. Both variables differed in their predictive power for PTSD, internalizing, and externalizing disorders indicating the need for specific therapeutic interventions. Taking a close look at their trauma history seems to be of special importance for juveniles suffering from PTSD and anxiety disorders. For delinquent adolescents with DBD, ADHD and SUD, the training of emotion regulation techniques appears most promising. Approaches focusing on both, ACEs and emotion-focused contents may be implemented in the treatment of depressive disorders and suicidality.

Keywords

Childhood adversitiesEmotion dysregulationJuvenile offendersDelinquent youthPsychopathology

Background

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) display a burden to children and adolescents worldwide with prevalence rates as high as 14–55 % for physical abuse, 11–47 % for emotional abuse, 6–22 % for sexual abuse, 7–19 % for physical neglect, and 15–40 % for emotional neglect [1]. However, ACEs are not restricted to these forms of maltreatment. The still ongoing ACE Study revealed high prevalence rates of up to 10 different types of childhood adversities in a large community sample [2, 3], additionally including domestic violence towards one’s mother, parental separation or divorce, living with someone in the houshold who is mentally ill, living with someone in the household who has substance abuse problems, and living with someone in the household who has been incarcerated.

The consideration of ACEs appears especially important in the context of juvenile delinquency. In their comprehensive study on more than 64,000 adolescent offenders, Baglivio and colleagues [4] found delinquent youths four times more likely to be burdened with four or more ACEs and 13 times less likely to have faced no ACE at all relative to the adult sample of the above-mentioned ACE study [2], and ACEs predicted an early onset and chronicity of offending [5, 6].

ACEs have been shown to play a crucial role in the development of mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and suicidal behaviors [710]. In addition, ACEs have been linked to externalizing problems such as antisocial behavior, interpersonal violence, delinquency, impulsivity, and ADHD [1116], as well as substance abuse [17].

Chronic irritability is one of the core symptoms of emotion dysregulation in children and adolescents and a risk marker for the development of psychiatric disorders in later adolescence and adulthood [18, 19]. A child’s inability to cope with intense negative feelings and to regulate emotion has recently been defined as severe mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) in DSM-5. A recent theory addressed the role of emotion regulation in the associations of early threatening and neglectful experiences with various psychiatric disorders [20]. According to this theory, ACEs relate to biased threat perceptions, which go along with enhanced reactivity of the autonomic nervous system as well as elevated neural responsivity to negative information. In other words, the early exposure to ACEs may impair children’s abilities to regulate their emotions manifesting in chronic, non-episodic irritability which was found to predict later affective and behavioral disorders. In line with this theory, Heleniak and colleagues [21] found in youth of a community sample that emotional dysregulation mediated the relations between maltreatment and psychopathology. In juvenile detainees, irritability was associated, amongst others, with antisocial, borderline, and narcissistic personality disorders [22], and was found to predict violent criminal re-offenses after release from detention [23]. By taking into account these recent findings, the present study addresses the specific impact of cumulative ACEs while controlling for irritability symptoms. To know how irritability and cumulative ACEs are related to distinct psychiatric disorders in detained adolescents is important for clinical decision making. For example, trauma related interventions should be provided specifically for detained youth with psychiatric disorders that arise from cumulative ACEs whereas emotion focused therapy or medication is indicated in youth with chronic irritability.

To the best of our knowledge, no study has yet investigated the effects of ACEs on psychiatric disorders in delinquent youth while considering the role of emotion dysregulation in terms of persistent irritability. The present study examined whether and how a cumulative score of ACEs and irritability predicted different psychiatric disorders in detained adolescents. Taking into account the high rates of both psychiatric morbidity and ACEs in detained juveniles [2426], the present study (a) included various mental disorders, and (b) considered a variety of ACEs that have been examined in previous research. ACEs tend to occur in multiple forms [23, 27] and may have a cumulative effect on negative outcomes in terms of a dose–response relationship [2]. Furthermore, age at time of incarceration, foreign nationality, and low socio-economic status (SES) were included as common covariates of juvenile delinquency. Based on the above-mentioned literature review, we expected to obtain high rates of both ACEs and psychiatric disorders in the present adolescent detention sample. We also assumed that the cumulative scores of ACEs and irritability would positively predict internalizing and externalizing problems, and we hypothesized that ACE- and irritability-scores would be positively correlated.

Methods

Participants and procedure

The present study was conducted at the Zurich Juvenile Detention Centre, the only prison for male juvenile offenders in the Canton of Zurich (Switzerland). All juveniles consecutively admitted to this correctional facility between September 2010 and November 2012 were eligible for the present study. Exclusion criteria were (a) insufficient command of the German language; (b) significant medical conditions (e.g., acute state of human immunodeficiency virus, hepatitis, or other infectious diseases) and/or neurological disorders (e.g., epilepsy); and (c) intellectual disability or current psychotic symptoms (assessed by clinical impression). Data were assessed by four child and adolescent psychiatrists with special forensic training and one clinical forensic psychologist from the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Zurich. The juveniles were invited for participation in the study within 5 days of admission.

Out of a total of 226 male juveniles, 31 (13.7 %) were excluded because of insufficient command of the German language, nine (3.9 %) were excluded because of intellectual disability/psychotic symptoms, and six (2.6 %) were excluded due to their release from detention prior to assessment. Four (1.8 %) juveniles refused to participate in the present study. Furthermore, 46 (20.3 %) adolescents were excluded because of missing or incomplete data. The age of the final sample consisting of 130 male adolescents ranged between 13.8 and 19.5 years (M = 16.84 years, SD = 1.15 years). Detention was due to the following self-reported main crimes: violent crimes (e.g., manslaughter, sexual coercion; n = 67, 51.5 %), property crimes (e.g., theft, defraud; n = 16; 12.3 %), drug related crimes (n = 1; 0.8 %), and other crimes (e.g., violation of current sanction; n = 46; 35.4 %).

Measures

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)

ACEs were retrospectively assessed using the Multidimensional Clinical Screening Inventory for delinquent juveniles [MCSI; 24]. This semi-structured interview explores an adolescent’s psychosocial background combining forensic information and clinical history. The MCSI had been developed in discussion with leading juvenile delinquency experts and the instrument had been successfully implemented in previous research based on incarcerated youth samples [24, 28].

The MCSI includes the assessment of school and work history; behavioral problems at school; history of psychiatric disorders; previous psychiatric, psychological, and psychotherapeutic treatment; somatic history; psychiatric and neurological family history; marital status of the parents; placement in foster care institutions; and trauma. Out of all MCSI variables, only those adverse life events were considered for analysis that matched the 10 ACEs defined in the milestone study of Felitti et al. [2, 3; see Table 1] in order to assure comparability across studies. In accordance with previous research [e.g., 3], affirmative responses were summed up to compute a cumulative ACE total score (range = 0–10).
Table 1

ACE and psychiatric disorders in male detained adolescents

 

Frequencies

ACE

 Emotional abuse

48 (36.9 %)

 Physical abuse

53 (40.0 %)

 Sexual abuse

3 (2.3 %)

 Emotional neglect

24 (18.5 %)

 Physical neglect

26 (20.0 %)

 Battered mother

44 (33.8 %)

 Parental separation or divorce

61 (46.9 %)

 Mental illness in household

67 (51.5 %)

 Household substance abuse

32 (24.6 %)

 Incarcerated household member

62 (47.7 %)

Psychiatric disorders and suicidality

 PTSD

17 (13.1 %)

 Anxiety disorders (w/o PTSD)

34 (26.2 %)

 Depressive disorders

34 (26.2 %)

 Substance use disorders

86 (66.2 %)

 ADHD

60 (46.2 %)

 Disruptive behavior disorders

104 (80.0 %)

 Other disorders

3 (2.3 %)

 Suicidality (moderate or severe)

34 (26.2 %)

ACE adverse childhood experiences, PTSD post traumatic stress disorder, ADHD attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Psychopathology

Current psychiatric disorders were assessed using the structured Mini Neuropsychiatric Interview for Children and Adolescents [MINI-KID version 6.0; 29], which considers the diagnostic criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) and of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10). The present study included the following diagnoses: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depressive disorders (major depressive episode and/or dysthymia), substance use disorder (SUD), and disruptive behavior disorder (DBD; oppositional defiant disorder and/or conduct disorder), as well as ADHD and anxiety disorders (panic disorder, agoraphobia, separation anxiety disorder, social phobia, specific phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder). The MINI-KID has been proven to assess psychiatric disorders validly and reliably [23, 29]. Furthermore, the MINI-KID reliably reports current and lifetime suicidality (inter-rater and re-test reliabilities: AUC = 0.89–0.99, κ = 0.81–0.96) on three levels [low, moderate and severe; 29]. In the present study, suicidality was coded as present if rated as moderate or severe.

Covariates

Irritability was assessed using the German version of the Caprara Irritability Scale [CIS; 30, 31]. Statements of the 20 respective items were answered on 6-point Likert scales (1 = not true—6 = exactly true) and a cumulated irritability score was built (range 20–120). Reliability and validity of this self-report questionnaire has been demonstrated by the authors [30]. Internal consistency in the present sample was nearly excellent (Cronbach’s α = .88). Items of the CIS relate to affective and behavioral aspects of irritability as a result of the inability to control negative feelings (e.g., “It takes very little for things to bug me”, “I often feel like a powder keg ready to explode”, and “When I am tired I easily lose control”). General demographic data included age at time of incarceration, foreign (non-Swiss) nationality, and low SES. The latter was coded using the professional occupations of the adolescents’ mothers and fathers according to the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO-08) guidelines [32]. Categories range from management positions (1) to unskilled workers (9); unemployment was coded as 10. Low SES was coded present when both caregivers had ISCO-scores of 9 and/or 10, or when one caregiver had a score of 9 or 10 while occupational information about the other was missing.

Data analysis

Statistical analyses were conducted by use of SPSS 23. Descriptive methods were used to present the distributions of ACEs, the irritability score, psychiatric diagnoses, and demographic characteristics. Pearson’s correlation coefficients were calculated to quantify the relations between variables. Following Cohen’s [33] suggestions, effects were considered weak with coefficients smaller than .30, moderate with coefficients between .30 and .50, and strong with coefficients of at least .50.

Binary logistic regression analyses were used to examine the predictive effects of the ACE total score, the irritability score, the interaction of the ACE total score and the irritability score, age at time of incarceration, foreign nationality, and low SES on psychiatric diagnoses. In addition to unadjusted regression models, adjusted models were performed for each factor controlling for all other variables. Because the focus of the present study was on the presence of specific psychiatric diagnoses in detained adolescent offenders, we did not control for other co-occuring psychiatric disorders. For regression analyses, numeric scale scores (ACE total score, irritability score, and age at time of incarceration) were z-transformed in order to facilitate interpretation. Multivariate analyses were performed to buffer against type 1 error. Multicollinearity was checked by inspecting the correlation matrix of all variables as well as the variance inflation factor (VIF) and the tolerance values. No multicollinearity issues were assumed when intercorrelations were low to medium, VIF values below 10, and tolerance values below .10 [34]. Because of the exploratory character of the present study we also included statistical trends in our findings.

Results

Descriptive findings

Sample characteristics

The participating 130 incarcerated males were equally likely of Swiss (n = 72, 55 %) or foreign nationality (n = 58, 45 %; χ2(1) = 1.51, p = .22). A quarter of the juveniles (n = 32) were of low SES. A marginally significant association was found between foreign nationality and low SES (χ2(1) = 3.573, p = .06). In comparison to the remaining participants, the 96 drop-outs were older (M = 17.14 vs.16.83 years, t(224) = 2.03, p = .04) and more likely of foreign nationality (n = 60, 62.5 % vs. n = 58; 44.6 %, χ2(1) = 7.08, p < .001). There were no significant differences between participants and drop-outs as for low SES (n = 13, 13.5 % vs. n = 22, 16.9 %; χ2(1) = 0.482, p = .49). The proportions of violent and other crimes were significantly higher for included juveniles (adjusted residuals: 8.9 and 4.6, respectively), whereas excluded juveniles showed more property and drug related crimes (adjusted residuals: 7.6 and 5.9, respectively; χ2(3) = 22.03, p < .001).

ACEs

Of all participants, 91.5 % reported at least one ACE, while about 75 % of the participants reported more than one ACE. The frequencies of affirmed ACEs are shown in Table 1. Mental illness in the household appeared to be the most prevalent ACE, followed by an incarcerated household member, and parental separation/divorce. The least common ACEs included sexual abuse and emotional neglect. The mean ACE total score was 3.22 (SD = 2.15) ranging from 0 to 9.

Psychopathology

The frequencies of adolescent psychiatric disorders according to the MINI-KID are also shown in Table 1. The majority of the incarcerated adolescents fulfilled the diagnostic criteria for DBD, followed by SUD. Approximately a quarter of the participants suffered from depressive disorders and suicidality. PTSD was diagnosed in 13 % of the sample. Comorbities were frequent in the present sample as 79.2 % (n = 103) of the juveniles showed two or more co-existing diagnoses (M = 2.80, SD = 1.73, range = 0–7).

Irritability

The mean self-rated irritability score was 61.78 (SD = 17.34) ranging from 24 to 106. The irritability score was significantly and positively correlated with the ACE total score (r = 0.19, p = .03).

Results of the prediction analyses

Multicollinearity was not an issue in the present analyses since intercorrelations were low to moderate (Table 2), and the VIF and tolerance values did not exceed respective cut-offs (ranges: 1.02–1.08, and .93–.98, respectively). Tables 3, 4 and 5 display the results of the binary regression analyses. The ACE total score was a consistent predictor of PTSD, anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and suicidality in both the unadjusted and adjusted models. The ACE total score was not predictive of DBD and ADHD, and only by trend a significant predictor for SUD in the unadjusted model. The irritability score consistently predicted depressive disorders, suicidality, DBD, ADHD, and SUD. For anxiety disorders, its predictive value was significant only by tendency in the unadjusted model and not significant in the adjusted model. The irritability score did not predict PTSD. The interaction term of the ACE total score and the irritability score did not reach statistical significance, neither in univariate nor in multivariate models.
Table 2

Correlation matrix for psychiatric diagnoses, ACEs, and covariates in detained adolescent offenders

 

PTSD

Anxiety disorders

Depressive disorders

Suicidality

SUD

DBD

ADHD

ACE total scorea

Irritabilitya

Agea

Foreign nationality

Low SES

PTSD

1

.029

.392***

.285**

.085

.023

.053

.279**

.150+

−.080

.203*

.031

Anxiety disorders

 

1

.323***

.354***

.167+

.123

.221*

.224*

.156+

.040

−.041

.055

Depressive disorders

  

1

.480***

.315***

.123

.186*

.338***

.222*

.075

.100

.051

Suicidality

   

1

.188*

.129

.134

.263**

.202*

.076

.002

.051

SUD

    

1

.333***

.173*

.173*

.237**

.243**

−.012

−.063

DBD

     

1

.347***

.097

.319***

−.004

.023

−.045

ADHD

      

1

.120

.244**

.016

.131

−.094

ACE total scorea

       

1

.192*

−.025

−.014

−.195*

Irritabilitya

        

1

−.099

−.101

−.166+

Agea

         

1

.075

−.051

Foreign Nationality

          

1

.087

Low SES

           

1

PTSD post traumatic stress disorder, SUD substance use disorder, DBD disruptive behavior disorder, ADHD attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ACE adverse childhood experience, SES socio-economic status

Significance (two sided), +  p < .10, * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001

a z-Transformed

Table 3

Predicting the presence of PTSD and other anxiety disorder by ACEs and covariates in detained adolescent offenders

Variables

PTSD

Other anxiety disorder

Unadjusted model

Adjusted modela

Unadjusted model

Adjusted modela

OR (95 % CI)

OR (95 % CI)

OR (95 % CI)

OR (95 % CI)

ACE total scoreb

2.28 (1.33–3.91)**

2.39 (1.29–4.46)**

1.67 (1.12–2.49)**

1.68 (1.10–2.57)*

Irritability scoreb

1.59 (0.93–2.73)

1.63 (1.29–4.46)

1.44 (0.96–2.17)+

1.44 (0.92–2.26)

ACE total scoreb * Irritabiliy scoreb

1.14 (0.72–1.80)

0.83 (0.46–1.49)

1.03 (0.71–1.48)

1.04 (0.68–1.58)

Age at incarcerationb

0.79 (0.47–1.32)

0.80 (0.46–1.40)

1.10 (0.74–1.63)

1.21 (0.79–1.85)

Foreign nationality

3.50 (1.15–10.59)*

4.32 (1.30–14.31)*

0.83 (0.38–1.83)

0.76 (0.33–1.78)

low SES

0.61 (0.16–2.29)

0.50 (0.12–2.11)

0.72 (0.30–1.74)

1.60 (0.63–4.09)

PTSD posttraumatic stress disorder, ACE adverse childhood experience, SES socio-economic status, CI confidence interval, OR odds ratios

aAdjusted for demographics, ACE total score, irritability score, and interaction term ACE total score * irritability score

b z-Transformed

Significance (two sided), p < .10, * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001

Table 4

Predicting the presence of depressive disorders and suicidality by ACEs and covariates in detained adolescent offenders

Variables

Depressive disorders

Suicidality

Unadjusted model

Adjusted modela

Unadjusted model

Adjusted modela

OR (95 % CI)

OR (95 % CI)

OR (95 % CI)

OR (95 % CI)

ACE total scoreb

2.23 (1.45–3.45)***

2.33 (1.44–3.78)**

1.89 (1.23–2.91)***

1.95 (1.21–3.14)**

Irritability scoreb

1.72 (1.12–2.63)**

1.82 (1.10–2.96)*

1.67 (1.07–2.61)*

1.78(1.07–2.99)*

ACE total scoreb * Irritabiliy scoreb

1.14 (0.79–1.63)

1.04 (0.64–1.69)

1.05 (0.71–1.54)

0.98 (0.62–1.57)

Age at incarcerationb

1.19 (0.80–1.77)

1.36 (0.86–2.16)

1.20 (0.80–1.83)

1.40 (0.87–2.25)

Foreign nationality

1.58 (0.72–3.46)

1.76 (0.72–-4.29)

1.01 (0.44–2.32)

0.95 (0.38–2.34)

low SES

1.10 (0.44–2.75)

0.95 (0.35–2.59)

0.66 (0.27–1.66)

1.83 (0.67–4.97)

ACE adverse childhood experience, SES socio-economic status, CI confidence interval, OR odds ratios

aAdjusted for demographics, ACE total score, and irritability score, and interaction term ACE total score * irritability score

bz-Transformed

Significance (two sided), * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001

Table 5

Predicting the presence of disruptive behavior disorder, ADHD, and substance use disorder by ACEs and covariates in detained adolescent offenders

Variables

Disruptive behavior disorder

ADHD

Substance use disorder

Unadjusted model

Adjusted modela

Unadjusted model

Adjusted modela

Unadjusted model

Adjusted modela

OR (95 % CI)

OR (95 % CI)

OR (95 % CI)

OR (95 % CI)

OR (95 % CI)

OR (95 % CI)

ACE total scoreb

1.29 (0.82–2.03)

1.07 (0.63–1.83)

1.28 (0.90–1.81)

1.15 (0.79–1.69)

1.47 (1.00–2.17)+

1.42 (0.92–2.19)

Irritability scoreb

2.40 (1.46–3.95)***

2.39 (1.41–4.05)**

1.68 (1.16–2.45)**

1.70 (1.15–2.52)**

1.69 (1.15–2.51)**

1.76 (1.15–2.60)**

ACE total scoreb * Irritabiliy scoreb

0.86 (0.58–1.27)

0.90 (0.53–1.54)

1.09 (0.78–1.51)

1.06 (0.72–1.56)

0.96 (0.68–1.35)

1.02 (0.66–1.58)

Age at incarcerationb

0.99 (0.64–1.53)

1.03 (0.64–1.64)

1.03 (0.73–1.46)

1.06 (0.73–1.53)

1.71 (1.16–2.54)**

1.92 (1.26–2.92)**

Foreign nationality

1.12 (0.47–2.68)

1.52 (0.58–4.00)

1.70 (0.85–3.42)

1.98 (0.94–4.19)

0.95 (0.46–1.97)

0.93 (0.41–2.10)

low SES

1.15 (0.43–3.05)

0.86 (0.30–2.52)

0.94 (0.42–2.10)

1.00 (0.43–2.33)

1.02 (0.44–2.36)

1.06 (0.42–2.66)

ADHD attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ACE adverse childhood experience, SES socio-economic status, CI confidence interval, OR odds ratios

aAdjusted for demographics, ACE total score, and irritability score, and interaction term ACE total score * irritability score

bz-Transformed

Significance (two sided), +  p < .10, * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001

Age at time of incarceration was only predictive of SUD in both the unadjusted and the adjusted model. Foreign nationality consistently predicted PTSD. Low SES did not predict any psychiatric disorder.

Discussion

To the best of our knowledge, the present study is the first examination of the predictive impact of cumulative ACEs on various psychiatric disorders in juvenile detainees while accounting for the effects of irritability and demographic covariates. As expected and in line with studies on detained juveniles in other countries [24, 25, 35], high rates of ACEs and psychiatric disorders were found in the present Swiss sample. The results underscore that most delinquent juveniles are highly burdened with ACEs and psychopathology. However, considering the high prevalence of multiple ACEs in the current sample (more than 75 %), it is rather surprising that only a relatively low percentage of juveniles fulfilled the diagnostic criteria for PTSD (13 %). Interestingly, recent studies found similar prevalence rates for PTSD (10–20 %) in delinquent youth [25, 3638]. Given the biological impact of traumatic stress, it may be assumed that even if only some adolescents develop the classical symptoms and fulfill diagnostic criteria of PTSD, other mood and anxiety symptoms may be present as well [39]. However, the latter were not detected in the present study by the MINI-KID that goes only for full-blown diagnoses without considering subthreshold manifestations.

The ACE total score predicted PTSD, anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and suicidality. Odds ratios indicated that the probabilities of these diagnoses were approximately doubled when the ACE total score increased by one standard deviation. These findings remained significant even when taking symptoms of irritability into account. Our findings suggest that there is a direct link between the exposure to multiple adversities in childhood and adolescence and the development of internalizing psychiatric disorders. These results support previous findings on dose–response relationships between ACEs and several dysfunctional outcomes [e.g., 2]. Given the impact of multiple negative experiences on psychopathology, juveniles suffering from mood and anxiety disorders may benefit from trauma-focused treatment approaches, such as narrative exposure therapy for forensic offender rehabilitation [FORNET; 40].

In contrast, the cumulative ACE score was not associated with DBD and ADHD, and was related to SUD only by tendency. This finding was somewhat unexpected given the broad reaching effects of cumulative ACEs (Duke 2010) and the high rates of ACEs in detained youth in previous studies [23, 41]. However, because of the high rates of both ACEs and externalizing disorders in the present sample we cannot exclude that ceiling-effects may have influenced our results.

In line with previous research [e.g., 21], irritability was found to play a prominent role in the prediction of externalizing as well as internalizing disorders in detained male adolescents. The finding of irritability as the sole predictor of ADHD is comprehensible, given the neurobiological foundation of the disorder and the predictive impact of infant temperament and emotional dysregulation on ADHD [42]. The association of irritability with SUD may be due to to the function of substance use as self-medication in order to treat the effects of irritability [43]. These results suggest the need for rather specific therapeutic treatment options with a focus on emotional dysregulation, e.g., dialectical behavior therapy [44] in addition to social work interventions which are still indicated in the vast population of delinquent juveniles with diagnoses of DBD, ADHD, and SUD.

Besides its role in the manifestation of disruptive behavior disorders, irritability is also a core symptom of affective disorders and is a major risk factor for suicidality [e.g., 45, 46]. Suicide prevention is a major challenge in the prison system. Considering the fact that only depressed juveniles generally mobilize suicide prevention measures, irritability might be misinterpreted as an endangerment to others only, but not as a risk factor for self-harm. Behavioral psychotherapy focusing on irritability may be expected to yield positive results in juvenile detainees. Furthermore, psychopharmacological treatment might be helpful for extremely irritable individuals [47].

The present study indicates that ACEs and irritability appear to contribute to the development of psychiatric disorders and behavior problems by both shared and specific effects depending on the type of disorder. Our results revealed a weak but significant correlation between irritability and cumulative ACE scores indicating that the effects of ACEs and irritability on psychopathology may be dependent on each other at least to some extent. However, the results of the regression analyses underscore that both irritability and cumulative ACEs are distinctively contributing to the high prevalence of psychopathology in detained youths. The findings of the present study partly support recent theories on pathways that explain the relations between ACEs and psychopathology through collateral effects of emotion regulation [e.g., 20]. However, taking into account that irritability predicted externalizing problems even though ACEs did not (neither in the unadjusted nor the adjusted models), some assumptions on the mediating role of irritability in the associations of ACEs and psychopathology are challenged by the present findings.

Among the various covariates, foreign nationality was associated with an almost four-fold risk of having PTSD. Theses results are in line with recent data which have shown a link between migration and psychiatric disorders in a Swiss sample [48]. The mechanisms behind this phenomenon should be studied in further research given the ongoing discussion on the integration of foreign youth. The chances for having SUD increased with older age reflecting the vicious circle between crime and substance abuse behavior [49].

The present findings must not be interpreted without the consideration of various limitations. First, the sample consisted of a single juvenile correctional facility in Switzerland, which limits generalization to other correctional facilities in other countries. Secondly, included participants were not fully representative of the entire clientele by showing lower proportions of foreign nationality, younger age, and different crime distributions compared to excluded juveniles. Additionally, the results might not be applicable to individuals who have committed less serious or minor criminal acts that had not led to incarceration. Furthermore, it may not be fully excluded that self-reports caused some bias in the present data due to fallibility of memory, social desirability, and avoidance of reporting family dysfunction. The dichotomous assessment of life-time ACEs did not respect their severity and/or chronicity. Although the psychometric properties of the English version of the MINI-KID had been shown to be good, we are not aware of any psychometric evaluations of the German version. Our study included juvenile detainees up to the age of 19. These juveniles were also assessed using the kids version of the MINI because our clinicians considered the wording and questioning appropriate and were able to individually adapt language in an age appropriate manner. The MCSI was reported in two prior studies on an Austrian sample [24, 28]. Still, psychometric properties are not yet available. Finally, the present study does not allow any causal inferences due to its cross-sectional design; factors not controlled for in the present analyses may also exert essential influences on the outcome variables. In particular, symtoms of ADHD and DBD may overlap to a certain extent with symptoms of irritability.

In conclusion, several clinical implications may be derived from the present findings. Delinquent youths with different psychiatric disorders may need specific interventions tailored to their needs. Assessment and treatment of PTSD and anxiety disorders in adolescent detainees should refer to the trauma history of the adolescent and should consider a broad range of different ACEs. Approaches focusing primarily on the treatment of emotion regulation may be most appropriate for juveniles with DBD, ADHD, and SUD. Treatment of depressive disorders and suicidality may require the implementation of both trauma and emotion-focused contents.

Notes

Abbreviations

ACE: 

adverse childhood experience

ADHD: 

attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

CI: 

confidence interval

CIS: 

Caprara Irritability Scale

DBD: 

disruptive behavior disorder

DSM-IV: 

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition

FORNET: 

narrative exposure therapy for forensic offender rehabilitation

ICD-10: 

International Classification of Diseases, tenth edition

ISCO-08: 

International Standard Classification of Occupations guidelines

MCSI: 

multidimensional clinical screening inventory for delinquent juveniles

MINI-KID: 

mini neuropsychiatric interview for children and adolescents

OR: 

odds ratios

PTSD: 

post-traumatic stress disorder

SES: 

socio-economic status

SUD: 

substance use disorder

Declarations

Authors’ contributions

BP designed the present study. BP, MA, and CB implemented the study in the prison Limattal and obtained ethnic approval. BP was responsible for the procedure of data collection and data management. HB, SB, CS, and HCS were responsible for the basic conceptualization of the article. HB, SB, and CS performed the literature review and drafted the manuscript. SB and MA conducted the statistical analyses. MA, HCS, CB, and BP made substantial contributions to the final manuscript. HB and SB contributed equally to this work. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Acknowledgements

We thank Metin Aysel, Silke Nessbach, Hellvig Spinka, and Madleina Manetsch who helped with data collection.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Availability of data and materials

Due to the confidentiality of the assessed clinical and forensic information, the dataset supporting the conclusions of this article are neither included within the article nor available in any accessible repository. Scientists wishing to use them for non-commercial purposes are kindly asked to contact the present authors in order to frame individual agreements.

Ethics approval and consent to participate

The study aims were explained to all participants and confidentiality was assured with the exception of acute suicidal or homicidal risk. The participants provided written informed consent to the study. In compliance with the guidelines for clinical studies by the ethics committee of the Canton of Zurich, the final approval for the study was given by the Swiss Federal Institute of Health.

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
Department of Child and Adolescent Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, Clinic Fontane
(2)
Department of Psychosomatics and Psychiatry, Child Protection Team, University Children’s Hospital Zurich
(3)
Department of Forensic Psychiatry, Centre for Child and Youth Forensic Service, University Hospital of Psychiatry
(4)
University Clinics for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Paracelsus Medical University Salzburg
(5)
Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University Hospital of Psychiatry
(6)
Division of Clinical Psychology with Children/Adolescents & Families/Couples, Department of Psychology, University of Zurich
(7)
Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychology, Institute of Psychology, University of Basel
(8)
Child and Adolescent Mental Health Centre, Capital Region Psychiatry

References

  1. Stoltenborgh M, Bakermans-Kranenburg MJ, Alink LRA, van Ijzendoorn MH. The prevalence of child maltreatment across the globe: review of a series of meta-analyses. Child Abuse Rev. 2015. doi:10.1002/car.2353/car.2353.Google Scholar
  2. Felitti VJ, Anda RF, Nordenberg D, Williamson DF, Spitz AM, Edwards V, Koss MP, Marks JS. Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. The adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study. Am J Prev Med. 1998. doi:10.1016/S0749-3797(98)00017-8.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Dong M, Giles WH, Felitti VJ, Dube SR, Williams JE, Chapman DP, Anda RF. Insights into causal pathways for ischemic heart disease adverse childhood experiences study. Circulation. 2004;110:1761–6.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Baglivio MT, Epps N, Swartz K, Huq MS, Sheer A, Hardt NS. The prevalence of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) in the lives of juvenile offenders. Journal of Juvenile Justice. 2014;3:1–23.Google Scholar
  5. Fox BH, Perez N, Cass E, Baglivio MT, Epps N. Trauma changes everything: examining the relationship between adverse childhood experiences and serious, violent and chronic juvenile offenders. Child Abuse Neglect. 2015. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2015.01.011.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Odgers CL, Moffitt TE, Broadbent JM, Dickson N, Hancox RJ, Harrington H, Poulton R, Sears MR, Thomson WM, Caspi A. Female and male antisocial trajectories: from childhood origins to adult outcomes. Dev Pychopathol. 2008. doi:10.1017/S0954579408000333.Google Scholar
  7. Blaze J, Asok A, Roth TL. The long-term impact of adverse caregiving environments on epigenetic modifications and telomeres. Front Behave Neurosci. 2015. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00079.Google Scholar
  8. Brodsky BS, Stanley B. Adverse childhood experiences and suicidal behavior. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2008. doi:10.1016/j.psc.2008.02.002.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Reichl C, Kaess M, Resch F, Brunner R. Die Rolle des Genotyps bei der generationsübergreifenden Übertragung belastender Kindheitserlebnisse [The role of genotype in the intergenerational transmission of experiences of childhood adversity]. Z Kinder Jugendpsychiatr Psychother. 2014. doi:10.1024/1422-4917/a000310.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. van der Knaap LJ, Riese H, Hudziak JJ, Verbiest MM, Verhulst FC, Oldehinkel AJ, van Oort FV. Adverse life events and allele-specific methylation of the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4) in adolescents: the TRAILS study. Psychosom Med. 2015. doi:10.1097/psy.0000000000000159.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Duke NN, Pettingell SL, McMorris BJ, Borowsky IW. Adolescent violence perpetration: associations with multiple types of adverse childhood experiences. Pediatrics. 2010. doi:10.1542/peds.2009-0597.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Fuller-Thomson E, Lewis DA. The relationship between early adversities and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Child Abuse Neglect. 2015. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2015.03.005.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Maughan B, McCarthy G. Childhood adversities and psychosocial disorders. Br Med Bull. 1997;53:156–69.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Aebi M, Landolt MA, Mueller-Pfeiffer C, Schnyder U, Maier T, Mohler-Kuo M. Testing the “sexually abused-abuser hypothesis” in adolescents: a population-based study. Arch Sex Behav. 2015. doi:10.1007/s10508-014-0440-x.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Lansford JE, Miller-Johnson S, Berlin LJ, Dodge KA, Bates JE, Pettit GS. Early physical abuse and later violent delinquency: a prospective longitudinal study. Child Maltreat. 2007. doi:10.1177/1077559507301841.PubMedPubMed CentralGoogle Scholar
  16. Mersky JP, Reynolds AJ. Child maltreatment and violent delinquency: disentangling main effects and subgroup effects. Child Maltreat. 2007. doi:10.1177/1077559507301842.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Koskenvuo K, Koskenvuo M. Childhood adversities predict strongly the use of psychotropic drugs in adulthood: a population-based cohort study of 24 284 Finns. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2015. doi:10.1136/jech-2014-204732.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Leibenluft E. Severe mood dysregulation, irritability, and the diagnostic boundaries of bipolar disorder in youths. Am J Psychiatry. 2011. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2010.10050766.Google Scholar
  19. Roy AK, Lopes V, Klein RG. Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD): a new diagnostic approach to chronic irritability in youth. Am J Psychiatry. 2014. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2014.13101301.PubMedPubMed CentralGoogle Scholar
  20. McLaughlin KA. Future directions in childhood adversity and youth psychopathology. J Clin Child Adolesc. 2016. doi:10.1080/15374416.2015.1110823.Google Scholar
  21. Heleniak C, Jenness JL, Vander Stoep A, McCauley E, McLaughlin KA. Childhood maltreatment exposure and disruptions in emotion regulation: a transdiagnostic pathway to adolescent internalizing and externalizing psychopathology. Cognit Ther Res. 2015. doi:10.1007/s10608-015-9735-z.Google Scholar
  22. Kaszynski K, Kallis DL, Karnik N, Soller M, Hunter S, Haapanen R, Blair J, Steiner H. Incarcerated youth with personality disorders: prevalence, comorbidity and convergent validity. Personal Ment Health. 2014. doi:10.1002/pmh.1241.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Aebi M, Linhart S, Thun-Hohenstein L, Bessler C, Steinhausen H-C, Plattner B. Detained male adolescent offender’s emotional, physical and sexual maltreatment profiles and their associations to psychiatric disorders and criminal behaviors. JACP. 2015. doi:10.1007/s10802-014-9961-y.Google Scholar
  24. Bauer SM, Steiner H, Feucht M, Stompe T, Narnik N, Kasper S, Plattner B. Psychosocial background in incarcerated adolescents from Austria. Turkey and former Yugoslavia. Psychiatry Res. 2011. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2010.04.052.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Colins O, Vermeiren R, Vreugdenhil C, van den Brink W, Doreleijers T, Broekaert E. Psychiatric disorders in detained male adolescents: a systematic literature review. Can J Psychiatry. 2010;55:255–63.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Plattner B, Aebi M, Steinhausen HC, Bessler C. Psychopathologische und komorbide Störungen inhaftierter Jugendlichen in Österreich—Implikationen für einen jugendpsychiatrischen Versorgungsauftrag im Strafvollzug [Psychopathological and comorbid disorders of incarcerated adolescents in Austria]. Z Kinder Jugendpsychiatr Psychother. 2011. doi:10.1024/1422-4917/a000113.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Dunn VJ, Abbott RA, Croudace TJ, Wilkinson P, Jones PB, Herbert J, Goodyer IM. Profiles of family-focused adverse experiences through childhood and early adolescence: the ROOTS project a community investigation of adolescent mental health. BMC Psychiatry. 2011. doi:10.1186/1471-244x-11-109.Google Scholar
  28. Plattner B, Bessler C, Vogt G, Linhart S, Thun-Hohenstein L, Aebi M. Psychosoziale Belastungen bei inhaftierten Mädchen und Jungen [Psychosocial disadvantages in incarcerated girls and boys]. Z Kinder Jugendpsychiatr Psychother. 2016. doi:10.1024/1422-4917/a000349.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Sheehan DV, Sheehan KH, Shytle D, Janavs J, Bannon Y, Rogers JE, Milo KM, Stock SL, Wilkinson B. Reliability and validity of the mini international neuropsychiatric interview for children and adolescents (MINI-KID). J Clin Psychiatry. 2010. doi:10.1097/01.chi.0000175325.14481.21.Google Scholar
  30. Caprara GV, Cinanni V, D’Imperio G, Passerini S, Renzi P, Travaglia G. Indicators of impulsive aggression: present status of research on irritability and emotional susceptibility scales. Pers Individ Diff. 1985. doi:10.1016/0191-8869(85)90077-7.Google Scholar
  31. Sartorius N, Kuyken W. Translation of health status instruments. In: Orley J, Kuyken W, editors. Quality of life assessment: international perspectives: proceedings of the joint-meeting organized by the World Health Organization and the fondation IPSEN in Paris, July 2–3, 1993. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg; 1994. p. 3–18.Google Scholar
  32. International Labour Organization. International Standard Classification of Occupations 2008 (ISCO-08): structure, group definitions and correspondence tables. Geneva: International Labour Office; 2012.Google Scholar
  33. Cohen J. Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. 2nd ed. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum; 1988.Google Scholar
  34. Hair JFJ, Anderson RE, Tatham RL, Black WC. Multivariate data analysis. 3rd ed. New York: Macmillan; 1995.Google Scholar
  35. Abram KM, Zwecker NA, Welty LJ, Hershfield JA, Dulcan MK, Teplin LA. Comorbidity and continuity of psychiatric disorders in youth after detention: a prospective longitudinal study. JAMA psychiatry. 2015;72:84–93.View ArticlePubMedPubMed CentralGoogle Scholar
  36. Wilson HW, Berent E, Donenberg GR, Emerson EM, Rodriguez EM, Sandesara A. Trauma history and PTSD symptoms in juvenile offenders on probation. Vict Offender. 2013. doi:10.1080/15564886.2013.835296.PubMedPubMed CentralGoogle Scholar
  37. Dierkhising CB, Ko SJ, Woods-Jaeger B, Briggs EC, Lee R, Pynoos RS. Trauma histories among justice-involved youth: findings from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Eur J Psychotraumatol. 2013. doi:10.3402/ejpt.v4i0.20274.PubMedPubMed CentralGoogle Scholar
  38. Becker SP, Kerig PK. Posttraumatic stress symptoms are associated with the frequency and severity of delinquency among detained boys. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2011. doi:10.1080/15374416.2011.597091.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Heim C, Nemeroff CB. The role of childhood trauma in the neurobiology of mood and anxiety disorders: preclinical and clinical studies. Biol Psychiatry. 2001. doi:10.1016/S0006-3223(01)01157-X.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Elbert T, Hermenau K, Hecker T, Weierstall R, Schauer M. FORNET: Behandlung von traumatisierten und nicht-traumatisierten Gewalttätern mittels Narrativer Expositionstherapie [FORNET: treatment of traumatized and non-traumatized violent offenders by means of narrative exposure therapy]. In: Endrass J, Rossegger A, Urbaniok F, Borchard B, editors. Interventionen bei Gewalt- und Sexualstraftätern: risk-management, Methoden und Konzepte der forensischen Therapie. Berlin: Medizinisch Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft; 2012. p. 255–76.Google Scholar
  41. Ford JD, Grasso DJ, Hawke J, Chapman JF. Poly-victimization among juvenile justice-involved youths. Child Abuse Neglect. 2013. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2013.01.005.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Sullivan EL, Holton KF, Nousen EK, Barling AN, Sullivan CA, Propper CB, Nigg JT. Early identification of ADHD risk via infant temperament and emotion regulation: a pilot study. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2015. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12426.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Khantzian EJ. The self-medication hypothesis of substance use disorders: a reconsideration and recent applications. Harv Rev Psychiatry. 1997. doi:10.3109/10673229709030550.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Berzins LG, Trestman RL. The development and implementation of dialectical behavior therapy in forensic settings. Int J Forensic Ment Health. 2004. doi:10.1080/14999013.2004.10471199.Google Scholar
  45. Frazier EA, Liu RT, Massing-Schaffer M, Hunt J, Wolff J, Spirito A. Adolescent but not parent report of irritability is related to suicidal ideation in psychiatrically hospitalized adolescents. Arch Suicide Res. 2016. doi:10.1080/13811118.2015.1004497.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Stringaris A, Zavos H, Leibenluft E, Maughan B, Eley T. Adolescent irritability: phenotypic associations and genetic links with depressed mood. Am J Psychiatry. 2012. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2011.10101549.PubMed CentralGoogle Scholar
  47. Connor DF, Carlson GA, Chang KD, Daniolos PT, Ferziger R, Findling RL, Hutchinson JG, Malone RP, Halperin JM, Plattner B, et al. Juvenile maladaptive aggression: a review of prevention, treatment, and service configuration and a proposed research agenda. J Clin Psychiatry. 2006;67:808–20.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Heeren M, Wittmann L, Ehlert U, Schnyder U, Maier T, Müller J. Psychopathology and resident status—comparing asylum seekers, refugees, illegal migrants, labor migrants, and residents. Compr Psychiatry. 2014. doi:10.1016/j.comppsych.2014.02.003.Google Scholar
  49. Plattner B, Giger J, Bachmann F, Brühwiler K, Steiner H, Steinhausen H-C, Bessler C, Aebi M. Psychopathology and offense types in detained male juveniles. Psychiatry Res. 2012. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2012.02.006.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright

© The Author(s) 2016

Advertisement