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10-02 Acting Out: Running away from home and its long-term effect on mental health

Acting Out: Running away from home and its long-term effect on mental health

Adolescence can be a very confusing and tumultuous time for many. When fighting is no longer an option, some may choose flight instead. Those who decide to run away from their homes initially believe they are also escaping their personal problems, but research shows that these teens will only face further psychological and behavioral obstacles without proper guidance or structure in their lives.

The National Runaway Safeline (NRS) compiles and reports statistics each year about various runaway information. In their 2015 Crisis Connection Trend Report, the organization collected data from almost 18,000 crisis call or chat connections and found that:

  • In 2014, the largest age group of youth to contact the NRS was 17 year olds at 28 percent followed by 16 year olds at 17 percent and 18 year olds at 12 percent.
  • The most common issue was a problem with family dynamics at 30 percent, followed by abuse and neglect at 16 percent. Other issues included peer and social problems and mental health.
  • In terms of significant changing trends, youth on the streets for six months or longer had a drastic 91 percent decrease in connections with the NRS over the past three years. Conversely, calls and chats regarding abuse and neglect have increased by 21 percent over the past 10 years and GLBTQ issues have risen by 20 percent over the past three years.
  • 75 percent of youth in crisis who connected to the NRS relied on friends or relatives for housing, food, and funds and 11 percent reported using shelters or soup kitchens to survive day-to-day.

Multiple studies have delved into the behavioral and mental health issues that motivate a substantial proportion of runaways. Back in 1992, James A. Farrow, M.D., Robert W. Deisher, M.D., and a number of other doctors from differing universities published, “Health and health needs of homeless and runaway youth: A position paper of the Society for Adolescent Medicine,” in the Journal of Adolescent Health. By examining populations of homeless youth in the United States, the researchers found that homelessness directly affected healthy adolescent development. Without schooling or peers to interact with, many miss the chance to develop problem-solving and social skills that can help them secure jobs as adults. Also, a vicious cycle of substance abuse and isolation may begin from their lack of social and behavioral maturity.

This was further supported by a study conducted in the previous year, “Homeless and Runaway Youth Mental Health Issues: No Access to the System.” Researcher Michael R. Kennedy, M.S., of the Larkin Street Youth Center in San Francisco, California obtained data from 169 local homeless and runaway youth and discovered that the highest grade completed by the sample on average was ninth grade, 81 percent used alcohol frequently and 62 percent reported being victims of familial abuse.

The NRS report also detailed that 30 percent of youth crisis calls are from those who have not yet run away, with another 24 percent being those who are contemplating running away. Preventing mental health issues or substance abuse from erupting into an inescapable problem is still possible with Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego, which is a specialized facility that can help adolescents achieve holistic well-being. Call to speak with a professional for you or your teen.

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Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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