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Gang Members Have High Rates of Mental Illness


Gang life is characterized by violence, substance abuse, and a general disregard for others and for following the law.  In the first study of its kind, researchers from Queen Mary, University of London found that gang members have extremely high levels of mental illness, including antisocial personality disorder and anxiety (Krans). This new research is important because it gives insights into how to improve prevention for at-risk youth, as well as an alternative to substance abuse as an explanation for gang violence (Queen Mary, University of London).

This study surveyed 4,664 adult men aged 18-34 in Britain and split them into three groups: nonviolent men, violent men, and gang members (Queen Mary, University of London). In the survey, 108 men identified as gang members and, among these men, rates of mental illness were referred to by researchers as “unprecedented” (Wood).

About 85 percent of these men had antisocial personality disorder, 57 percent were drug dependent, 58 percent had an anxiety disorder, 25 percent screened positive for psychosis, and 34 percent had attempted suicide (Queen Mary, University of London). The only mental illness that was seen in lower numbers among gang members as compared to their nonviolent counterparts was depression (Krans).

As Jeremy Coid, lead author of this new research, noted, “Here we have…a complex public health problem at the intersection of violence, substance misuse, and mental health problems among young men” (Wood).

Some of these mental illness issues can likely be explained by the lifestyle that gang members lead and the violence they are exposed to – often from a young age. For example, the high levels of anxiety and some of the psychosis could be due to constant exposure and participation in violence that resulted in PTSD (Krans). Also, the symptoms of antisocial personality disorder are all but pre-requisites for gang members: disregard for the laws as well as others’ rights and feelings, manipulating others, exploiting others, and showing little remorse for things that may have caused someone else pain.

This new research is important in that it could help form preventative measures for at-risk youth, as well as providing an alternative explanation for gang-related violence. At-risk youth often have an underlying mental illness, as well as an environmental combination of factors, such as a violent home life, family who are gang members, and growing up in an area with a large gang presence (AACAP).

As a result of gang involvement, adolescents and children often end up exposed to drugs, alcohol, violence, as well as incarceration or death (AACAP). Although this new research doesn’t determine whether the mental illnesses shown were present before gang involvement or was a result of gang life, it does give mental health providers certain markers to be aware of in at-risk adolescents and youth.

Overall, gang members lead a dangerous and illegal lifestyle. Incarceration, violence, and drugs are all a part of daily life. However, this new research shows that being involved in this lifestyle may have serious and long-lasting mental effects, or exacerbate previously existing conditions. Parents, educators, and caregivers need to offer supportive, structured environments so that children don’t feel the need to search out a home and family in a gang.


Works Cited

AACAP. “Children and Gangs.” August 2011. Web. 16 July 2013.

Krans, Brian. “Gang Members Hit With High Levels of Mental Illness.” 12 July 2013. Healthline. Web. 16 July 2013.

Queen Mary, University of London. “Gang Members Found to Suffer Unprecedented Levels of Psychiatric Illness.” 12 July 2013. ScienceDaily. Web. 16 July 2013.

Wood, Janice. “Study Finds Gang Members Suffer High Levels of Mental Illness.” 13 July 2013. PsychCentral. Web. 16 July 2013.


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A native New Yorker, Bre loves the California scene and writing for Treatment4Addiction. She has been writing content for T4A for five months, and loves to learn new things, form opinions, and send them out to the world. Her interests include dance, singing, acting, talking with friends, being a daughter, and being the best big sister she can to her 16 year old brother. After attending ASU for a few months, she is interested in taking cosmetology classes and exploring her options. She looks forward to learning all she can, and doing something positive with that knowledge and experience.

Filed under: Conditions and Disorders, Mental Illness, Research · Tags: gang members, mental illness, violence is operated by Recovery Brands LLC, a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers, Inc.
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