Home » News » Gang Membership Tied to Mental Health Issues
Gang Membership Tied to Mental Health Issues

Gang Membership Tied to Mental Health Issues

Emerging research uncovers disturbing findings related to gang memberships in middle school and high school. Investigators discovered kids who decide to join gangs are more likely to be depressed and suicidal.

And, rather than membership providing a supportive environment, mental health problems often worsen after becoming a member of a gang.

Specifically, gang membership is associated with greater levels of depression, as well as a 67 percent increase in suicidal thoughts and a 104 percent increase in suicide attempts.

“Youth who join a gang are much more likely to have mental health issues, and then being in the gang actually makes it worse,” said Dr. Chris Melde, Michigan State University associate professor of criminal justice.

“It doesn’t act as an antidepressant. And some people may be seeking that out — a sense of well-being or purpose.”

With an estimated 850,000 members in the United States, gangs remain a “stubbornly persistent” problem, according to the Justice Department.

Many youth, particularly poor and minority youth, join gangs to escape hardship for the promise of money, protection, status or a sense of belonging they’re not getting at home, school or elsewhere.

But Melde has studied youth gangs for years and found no discernible benefits. For example, the rate of substance abuse and violent victimization only increase after kids join gangs.

In the latest study, Melde and Dr. Adam Watkins from Bowling Green State University studied national survey data of more than 11,000 middle- and high-school students.

They found youth who joined gangs had significantly higher levels of depression and suicidal thoughts than those who didn’t join gangs. Further, membership in gangs made these underlying problems much worse.

“If you think of gang membership as a coping mechanism — trying to cope with the hand you’ve been dealt in life — it doesn’t work,” Melde said.

“Kids join gangs for reasons, but when we try to find the benefits — whether it’s for protection, a sense of worth, whatever — we’re finding it actually makes an already significant problem in their lives even worse.”

The study appears online in the journal Criminal Justice and Behavior.

Source: Michigan State University
Unhappy member of a gang photo by shutterstock.

Gang Membership Tied to Mental Health Issues

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Gang Membership Tied to Mental Health Issues. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 14 Apr 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.