Understanding mental health needs of gang members

Gang related violence is one of the biggest challenges facing Governments worldwide. In United States, gang membership has been in decline since the late 1990s. However. crime by gangs still remains a major public concern.

Although only a small percentage of young people are involved with gangs, but they are responsible for a large percentage of crimes in affected communities. They are not only perpetrators of violence but also victims. In order to address the problem of gang violence, it is important to understand the relationship between gang-affiliation and mental health.

Gang members are often affected by mental health issues. In some cases, poor mental health can cause young people to get affiliated with gangs. However, involvement in gang activities can also cause mental health problems in people with no history of mental health problems.

Mental health problems can seriously impact an individual’s personal and social development and can affect all aspects of life including work, education, relationships, and more. So, it is vital to support mental health well-being in gang members.

Research also shows that “gang involvement relates to a range of mental health problems such as antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), anxiety, conduct disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), paranoia, and psychosis…gang members, compared to violent and non-violent men suffer from higher levels of, and seek more professional help for, mental health difficulties such as anxiety, psychosis, and substance abuse”

Another study conducted by Public Health England has also highlighted the mental health needs of gang-affiliated young people:

  • Gang members are at increased risk of a range of mental health conditions including conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder, anxiety, psychosis and drug and alcohol dependence
  • The links between gang-affiliation and poor mental health can operate in both directions. Poor mental wellbeing can draw young people to gangs while gang involvement can negatively impact on an individual’s mental health
  • Long-term exposure to violence is associated with psychological problems including depression, conduct disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Poor mental health and gang-affiliation share many common risk factors, often relating to young people’s early life experiences and the environments in which they grow up
  • Girls involved with gangs can be particularly vulnerable to mental health problems resulting from sexual and intimate partner violence

Another study compared the criminality and mental health problems of gang members by comparing gang members and nongang members on mental health symptoms, behavior problems, and antisocial criminality. The study revealed greater mental health symptoms among gang members, as well as more external behavior problems including delinquency and self-destructiveness. When mental health symptoms were controlled, gang members resembled nongang members on all variables except antisocial criminality variables, indicating that mental health services were important to prison release plans for gang members.

This clearly shows that there is a greater need to focus on the mental health needs of gang members if we want to address the bigger problem of gang violence in our society. The Taylor-Austin Group, LLC provide gang expert consultation and testimony, nationwide, for state and federal criminal trials, habeas corpus, immigration, civil and death penalty cases. We also provide training in areas of gang rehabilitation, counseling gang members, and alternatives for gang involved youth. Our experts have worked in the criminal street gang sector for decades and are leaders in their respective subject matter.