Gang membership & mental health…

“It’s a thug’s life!”

So said one of the lads I worked with in youth justice, when I asked about the violence he’d seen, suffered and taken part in.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/Aestusx

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/Aestusx

Gang membership was part of the problem. We spent the next two years working to help him through it.

A recent study from Queen Mary, University of London has shown unprecedented levels of psychiatric illness among young men in gangs.

Here’s what they found…

The study, published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, sampled 4,664 young men. They were split into 3 groups for comparison: violent, non-violent and gang members.

Here’s what they found amongst the gang-affiliated group:

  • 57% were drug-dependent
  • Two thirds were alcohol dependent
  • 25% were screened positively for psychosis
  • Almost 86% had an anti-social personality disorder
  • Nearly 59% had an anxiety disorder
  • Over a third had attempted suicide

Researchers speculated that the high levels of anxiety and psychosis could be related to the persistent exposure to and threat of violence, which can result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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They also hypothesised that an impulsively violent lifestyle can give rise to both internal and external expressions of trauma. This may explain the high rate of attempted suicides.

As such, gang members were much more likely than the other two groups to experience:

Teenager

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/ChrisHepburn

  • Ruminative violent thinking
  • Violent victimisation
  • Fear of further victimisation

Summing up, Professor Jeremy Coid said:

“Here we have … a complex public health problem at the intersection of violence, substance misuse and mental health problems among young men.” (Press release)

Where next?…

Because we have fewer young people entering the youth justice system, those that do go to Court display complex needs and their offending tends to be more prolific (YJB, 2014).

In our efforts to help these young people-boys and girls-we should keep in mind that gang membership could be a major driver of youth crime. But there’s more to it than that.

If we are really going focus on their needs, we should be looking below the surface to deal with any unmet mental health issues…

Related previous posts…

Here are a couple of previous posts on gangs:

Thoughts…?  Questions…?

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© Jonny Matthew 2014

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