Violent Male Gang Members Found To Have High Level of Mental Illness

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Gangs and violence go hand in hand, and mental illness is apparently closely connected to both, according to researchers at Queen Mary University of London who found “unprecedented levels of psychiatric illness” among violent young men and youth who are gang members. The study examined over 4,500 British men ranging in age from 18 to 24, investigating gang affiliation and membership, violence, and level of psychiatric illness.

The study, published in The American Journal of Psychiatry and reported by The Examiner, focused on areas with higher than average ethnic minority residents, lower social classes, and high numbers of youth involved in gangs. As has long been established, the researchers concluded that gangs are concentrated in urban areas with socio-economic deprivation, social problems, and high crime rates. They then categorized the participants into three groups: non-violent, violent, and gang members.

The survey found that 70.4 percent of the respondents have not been violent in the five years before the study, while 27.3 percent had been in a fight or physical assault, and 2.1 percent claimed gang membership. Interestingly, the non-violent men tended to be older than the violent men and gang members, and were also more likely to be unemployed.

The survey found that roughly one percent of British men between the age of 18 and 34 were members of gangs, but that group of people were markedly more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness than non-violent men. However, depression was significantly less prevalent within the violent and gang population.

“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,” said Professor Jeremy Cold, lead author of the study and Director of the Forensic Psychiatry Research Unit at Queen Mary.

“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,” Cold said.

It should be noted, while these violent men are more likely to have mental illness, that does not necessarily suggest that mental illness causes violent tendencies. There is great debate over the connection between mental illness and violence, but there is a much stronger connection between violent tendencies and substance abuse.

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