Gang Membership Associated with Mental Disorders

Gang Membership Associated with Mental DisordersParents residing in inner city areas worry that their teens will get involved in gang activity, and the violence and drug use that comes with the territory. Aside from the serious concerns of injury or death, a new study that focused on young men in the UK discovered that gang membership is also associated with increased levels of mental illness. The findings included a number of areas of mental health that were impacted by gang activity. The researchers, a team from Queen Mary, University of London, identified several types of mental health problems that are observed in higher numbers among gang members.

The participants in the study who were members of a gang exhibited high rates of psychosis, anxiety and antisocial personality disorder, with the latter being found in 85.8 percent of those studies.

Additionally, two-thirds of those in gangs met criteria for alcohol dependency. Alcohol abuse is associated with increased rates of injury and risky sexual behaviors that can lead to unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

About one-quarter of those involved in gangs that participated in the study screened positive for psychosis. Approximately one-third had also attempted suicide, which is a leading cause of death among young people.

The study, which involved 4,664 men aged 18 to 34, reflected a high concentration of men from areas that are characterized by gang activity, including Hackney and Glasgow East. The survey also focused on men from lower social classes and areas that had a high population of minority residents.

The survey results showed a high level of violence among respondents. Of those surveyed, 70.4 percent indicated that they had not been involved in violent behavior in the past five years, but 27.3 percent of the men had assaulted another individual or been in a fight. In addition, 2.1 percent said that they were currently a member of a gang.

The researchers used the information gained by the survey to split the respondents into three groups, using gang membership and presence or absence of violent behaviors to identify them: gang members, violent men and non-violent men.

Nonviolent men were likely to be older than those who were violent or those who were members of a gang. Gang members and violent men were also more likely to be unemployed and to have been born in the UK.

Mental disorders were more prevalent among gang members and violent men, with those participants being more likely to utilize psychiatric treatment. One exception: gang membership and violent behavior was not associated with higher levels of depression.

However, violent thoughts, violent victimization and a fear of becoming a victim again were observed at increased levels among those who were gang members. The researchers believe that this may explain the higher levels of psychosis and anxiety symptoms exhibited by those involved in gangs.

Lead author Professor Jeremy Coid, Ph.D., Director of Forensic Psychiatry Research Unit at Queen Mary, says that this is the first study that has examined the relationship between gang involvement and mental illness. It is also the first to ask whether the association results in a burden on mental health services.

Coid also said that some of the psychiatric problems could be the result of post-traumatic stress disorder, which is often the result of involvement in or the witnessing of a violent or tragic situation.

The authors of the study note one limitation of the results was that the average age for gang membership is 15 and the ages of the men studied were 18 to 34. However, the findings are still helpful for implementing strategies that may aid in targeting young men for screenings and treatment for various mental health symptoms.

Posted on November 15th, 2013

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