The gun control debate has prompted many legislators to call for stronger mental health care, among other reforms, in the name of getting to the root of the violence. But new research reveals that one of the most common mental disorders among adolescents—depression—isn't statistically linked to violent crime later in life, though it is strongly related to higher property crime rates.
In a new working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, D. Mark Anderson, Resul Cesur and Erdal Tekin examined data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health collected from students who were in grades 7 to 12 in the 1994-95 school year, then tracked them for the next 13 years. The researchers argue that much of the existing research on mental health and crime doesn't have adequate controls for a whole range of factors—including socioeconomic status and poor parenting—and is limited in time span.
The NBER study seeks to explore the long-term consequences of teenage depression and controls for poverty, parenting style, school type, education level and employment among many other factors. Researchers found that there was only one kind of crime that was linked statistically to adolescent depression: property crime:
Our findings indicate that adolescents who suffer from depression face a substantially increased probability of engaging in property crime. We find little evidence that adolescent depression influences the likelihood of engaging in violent crime or the selling of illicit drugs. Our estimates imply that the lowerbound economic cost of property crime associated with adolescent depression is about 219 million dollars per year....Moreover, our findings persist even when we compare individuals who attend the same schools or individuals who are siblings.
Such findings suggest that there's a more complex relationship between mental illness and crime than the conventional wisdom suggests.