Gangs have been linked to horrific crimes for a substantial amount of time and do not appear to be disassembling anytime soon. In fact, a report entitled, “The 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment” which was compiled by The National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) in Washington, D.C., found that gangs were responsible for an average of 48 percent of violent crimes in most jurisdictions. Even more surprisingly, gangs accounted for up to 90 percent of violent crimes in other jurisdictions.
Unfortunately, gang related violence stretches far beyond the confines of the United States. They exist on every continent and in essence, every segment of the world. For example, gangs are becoming increasingly apparent in the United Kingdom. New research in this country reveals that one percent of men between the ages of 18 and 34 are members of a gang. In the London borough of Hackney, the percentage increases to 8.6 percent where one in five African American men admitted to being in a gang.
The damage that gangs can create is quite evident in the news and media. It is not unheard of to hear of a gang related incident weekly or even daily especially when you are living in a high crime area. However, not many people are aware of the types of individuals that make up a gang. Who are the gang members? What type of individual is likely to be in a gang?
These are questions that recent research in the U.K. has investigated. The Britain study which included over 4,600 men found psychiatric illness to be an overwhelmingly common occurrence affecting gang members. Some of the highest rates of psychiatric illness included drug dependency which affected 57.4% of participants; two-thirds of participants being classified as alcohol dependent; antisocial personality disorder affecting 85.8% of the participants; and 58.9% having an anxiety disorder. Additionally, one –third of the participants had attempted suicide and 25.1 percent met criteria for psychosis.
Although a variety of psychiatric illnesses were reported amongst the gang members, surprisingly, depression was not one of them. Depression was actually reported far less than that of other psychiatric illnesses found in gang members and violent men.
There are many possible causes that could be attributed to the psychiatric ill-health of gang members. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was listed as one of them. The lead researcher in the study, Jeremy Coid, Ph.D., Director of Forensic Psychiatry Research Unit at Queen Mary, finds it to be quite probable that high levels of anxiety disorder and psychosis can be contributed to PTSD. Additionally, PTSD is a common result when an individual is exposed to violence.
Although the exact cause of these disorders will require further and significant investigation from researchers, it is undeniable that a gang member is very likely to suffer from psychiatric illness. With this in mind, hopefully mental health professionals can use this information to identify at-risk youth within gang inhabited areas and also provide the assistance that can dissuade a young man from joining and/or staying in the environment.