members found to suffer unprecedented levels of psychiatric illness (mental
who are gang members suffer unprecedented levels of psychiatric illness,
placing a heavy burden on mental health services, according to new research led
by Queen Mary, University of London.
National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and Maurice & Jacqueline
Bennett Charitable Trust funded study surveyed 4 664 men aged 18 to 34 in
Britain. The survey covered measures of psychiatric illness, violence and gang membership.
It is the first time research has looked into whether gang violence is
associated with psychiatric illness, other than substance misuse.
sample was weighted to include significant numbers from areas with high gang
membership (Hackney and Glasgow East), lower social classes and areas with a
higher than average population of ethnic minority residents.
total sample, 3 284 (70.4%) reported that they had not been violent in the past
five years, 1 272 (27.3%) said they had assaulted another person or been
involved in a fight, and 108 (2.1%) said they were currently a member of a
gang. Using these results, the participants were split into three groups – gang
members, violent men and non-violent men for the analysis.
violent men and gang members were found to be younger than non-violent men,
more likely to have been born in the UK and more likely to be unemployed.
Depression the exception
In terms of
mental health, gang members and violent men were significantly more likely to
suffer from a mental disorder and access psychiatric services than non-violent
men. The exception was depression, which was significantly less common among
gang members and violent men.
ruminative thinking, violent victimisation and fear of further victimisation
were significantly higher in gang members and believed to account for high
levels of psychosis and anxiety disorder in gang members.
findings showed that, of the 108 gang members surveyed:
• 85.8% had an antisocial personality
• Two-thirds were alcohol dependent.
• 25.1% screened positive for
• More than half (57.4%) were drug
• Around a third (34.2%) had
• More than half (58.9%) had an
Jeremy Coid, Director of Forensic Psychiatry Research Unit at Queen Mary, and
lead author of the paper said: "No research has previously investigated
whether gang violence is related to psychiatric illness, other than substance
misuse, or if it places a burden on mental health services."
we have shown unprecedented levels among this group, identifying a complex
public health problem at the intersection of violence, substance misuse, and
mental health problems among young men.
probable that, among gang members, high levels of anxiety disorder and
psychosis were explained by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the most
frequent psychiatric outcome of exposure to violence. However, this could only
partly explain the high prevalence of psychosis, which warrants further
street gangs becoming increasingly evident in UK cities, membership should be
routinely assessed in young men presenting to healthcare services with
psychiatric illness in urban areas with high levels of gang activity."
suggest that the higher rate of attempted suicide attempts among gang members
may be associated with other psychiatric illness, but could also correspond
with the notion that impulsive violence may be directed both outwardly and
Facts about street gangs
gangs are concentrated in inner urban areas characterised by socioeconomic
deprivation, high crime rates and multiple social problems. The authors report
that around 1% of 18 to 34-year-old men in Britain are gang members. The level
rises to 8.6%in the London borough of Hackney, where one in five black men
reported gang membership.
Coid added: "A potential limitation of the study is that survey
participants were aged 18 to 34 and the average age for gang membership is 15.
So gang members in this study should be considered 'core' gang members who have
not stopped in early adulthood. We need further longitudinal studies to see if
our findings are due to factors specific to this group."