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Gang Members at an Increased Risk of Psychiatric Illnesses

Update Date: Jul 13, 2013 09:19 AM EDT
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Youth crime and activity often occur in areas with a lot of gang activity. Over the past years, federal agencies and organizations have jumpstarted programs to divert the youth from getting involved with gangs. In the United States, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that youth homicide rates hit a 30-year low in 2010. In a new study conducted by researchers from Queen Mary, University of London, National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and Maurice and Jacqueline Bennett, the team focused on gang activity and the effects it has on the members. They found that a huge percentage of gang members have an increased risk of developing psychiatric illnesses.

"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," said Professor Jeremy Coid, the Director of Forensic Psychiatry Research Unit at Queen Mary and lead author. "Here 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."

For this study, the researchers recruited 4,664 young British men between the ages of 18 and 34. The researchers measured all men for psychiatric illnesses, violence and gang involvement. Of this sample set, 70.4 percent of then, or 3,284 men were not involved in any violent acts or events within the past five years. 27.3 percent of the participants, who was equivalent to 1,272 men, reported assaulting another man in a fight. A small 2.1 percent of them admitted to being a part of a gang.

The researchers found that men who reported violence or were a part of gangs were more likely to be uneducated and young.  The researchers also found three factors that appeared to be higher in gang members and could be responsible for the increased rates of mental psychosis and anxiety disorder. These three factors were violent ruminative thinking, violent victimization and fear of future victimization. The researchers found that for the 108 men who admitted to belonging to a gang, 85.5 percent of them had an antisocial personality disorder with 25.1 percent of them testing positive for psychosis. 58.9 percent of these gang members had an anxiety disorder while 34.2 percent of them attempted suicide. Over 60 percent of them were adult dependent and over half of them were drug dependent.

"It is 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 investigation," Coid said according to the press release.

The research is published today in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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