Gang Members May Suffer From Unprecedented Illnesses

First Posted: Jul 12, 2013 01:06 AM EDT

The amount of gang violence in the United States can be shocking. Statistics show that more than half of the homicides reported in Los Angeles, and more than half of the homicides reported in Chicago are related to gang violence, with around 24,500 active gangs in America.

A recent study also shows that many gang members may be exhibiting unprecedented levels of psychiatric illness, placing a heavy burden on mental health services, according to new research led by Queen Mary, University of London.

The National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) and Marice & Jacqueline Bennett Charitable Trust funded study surveyed 4,644 men aged 18 to 34 in Britain. This survey covered measures of psychiatric illness, violence and gang membership, according to background information from the study.

Findings from the total sample surveyed showed that 3,284 (70.4 percent) reported that they had not been violent in the past five years, 1,272 (27.3 percent) said they had assaulted another person or been involved in a fight, and 108 (2.1 percent) 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.

The study also showed that violent men and gang members were found to be younger than non-violent men and likely to have been born in the UK. They were also more likely to be unemployed. Findings also showed that gang members were more likely to suffer from a mental disorder.

The findings showed that, of the 108 gang members surveyed, courtesy of a press release:

  • 85.8 per cent had an antisocial personality disorder;
  • Two-thirds were alcohol dependent;
  • 25.1 per cent screened positive for psychosis;
  • More than half (57.4 per cent) were drug dependent;
  • Around a third (34.2 per cent) had attempted suicide; and
  • More than half (58.9 per cent) had an anxiety disorder.

"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, Director of Forensic Psychiatry Research Unit at Queen Mary, and lead author of the paper, via the release. "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.

"With 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."

Study authors said they believe that higher rates of attempted suicide among gang members may be associated with other psychiatric illnesses, including the notion that impulsive violence may not just be directed outwardly, but inwardly as well.

More information regarding the study can be found in the American Journal of Psychiatry

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