Identifying mental health problems

The relationships between gang-affiliation and poor mental health

Research is starting to expose the high burden of mental illness faced by young people involved with gangs in England, which is an area that is often overlooked in work to prevent and address gang violence.

In a recent study sample of 100 young gang members, it could be expected that:

  • 86 will have conduct problems (under 18 years) or antisocial personality disorder (18 over years)
  • 67 will have alcohol dependence
  • 59 will have anxiety disorders (including post traumatic stress disorder)
  • 57 will have drug dependence
  • 34 will have attempted suicide
  • 25 will have psychosis
  • 20 will have depression

It is reported that the relationships between gang-affiliation and poor mental health operates in both directions. Poor mental health can attract young people to gangs and be a barrier to gang desistance. Equally, involvement in, or association with, gang-related activities can damage mental health and worsen existing problems.

Violence is an inherent feature of gang life, and can be used for purposes such as achieving domination, establishing status, revenging disrespect, maintaining group structure/organisation and regulating drug markets.

Poor mental health has serious impacts on young people's personal and social development and can affect all areas of life including education, employment, peer and intimate relationships, health-related behaviours and vulnerability to violence and crime. Supporting mental wellbeing in vulnerable young people is therefore a multi-agency interest and is essential to preventing gang-related violence.