Depressive Symptoms among Adolescents Exposed to Personal and Vicarious Police Contact

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Theories of stress and strain, which emphasize the concentration of social stressors among vulnerable groups, suggest that police contact—the most common type of criminal justice contact—can have deleterious health consequences. Research documents a relationship between police contact and adverse health, but less is known about the mental health consequences of police stops among adolescents. I examined this with data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N = 3,437), a longitudinal survey of individuals born around the turn of the 21st century and followed over a 15-year period. First, personal police contact and vicarious but not personal police contact (both compared to no police contact) are positively associated with depressive symptoms, net of characteristics associated with police contact (including prior mental health, delinquency, and impulsivity). Second, more intrusive police contact (such as stops that include frisks or searches) is positively associated with depressive symptoms. Third, the association between police contact and depressive symptoms is concentrated among girls and Blacks. Given the concentration of police contact among already vulnerable adolescents living in highly surveilled and disadvantaged neighborhoods, those same adolescents at greatest risk of health impairments, police contact may exacerbate population health disparities.

Turney, Kristin. 2021. “Depressive Symptoms among Adolescents Exposed to Personal and Vicarious Police Contact.” Society and Mental Health 11(2):113–133.