Gang culture ‘linked to mental health issues’ – Barnardo’s

Gun, knife and gang crime are “inextricably linked” to mental health problems among young people, according to Barnardo’s.

The charity said it believed youth violence was as much a public health issue as a criminal justice matter and is calling for changes in mental health services, particularly for young black people, and better support for communities.

It has joined with Coreplan UK and In-volve to organise a conference in London to discuss youth violence, explore the link between gang culture and and mental distress and address the disproportionately high rates of suicide among young black people.

The Redefining Sanity conference, on Wednesday, will be chaired by ex-gang member Jerone Hepplewith, who believes the majority of gang members have experienced some kind of childhood neglect.

Jerone, 23, who is now studying at Goldsmith College and working with disaffected young people in South and East London, said: “I was in and out of care since I was four because of parental neglect; my mother had alcohol and mental health problems.

“I was in care all my teenage years from 13 to 18, moving between children’s homes and foster home.

“I have also been involved off and on with the mental health services since I was in primary school.

“At one point when I was 13 it reached a crisis point. It was after my mother had visited me at the children’s home; she told me I should commit suicide, that she didn’t love me any more and I should die to make all their lives better.

“So I tried. I locked myself in the bathroom with a knife and just tried to end my life.

“The children’s home called in a doctor who did an assessment, but then I went off to a foster carer and the children’s home were no longer looking after me, so the information didn’t get passed on.

“For me being part of a group of young people gave me a sense of family and most of my time was spent out in the streets. We made sure each other were safe, and if anyone went to trouble you, there was a whole group to watch your back.

“People describe them as yobs and gangs and speak about the anti social behaviour. But what about turning the page and looking at the way they have experienced life?

“I would say that, 95% of the time, if young people are involved in gangs, they have had some sort of childhood trauma.”

Barnardo’s head of operations (London and South-east) Errol John, who is speaking at the conference, said: “Gun, knife and gang crime are inextricably linked to mental health issues among young people.

“We cannot combat these issues without addressing the cycle of emotional distress and social deprivation experienced by many vulnerable young people who become involved in these gangs.

“We need to give communities the support they need to become part of the solution rather than being viewed as the seed bed of the problem, but we also need to address the inequalities in the mental health system where young people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds fare worse than any other group.”

The conference will bring together professionals from mental health, education, and criminal justice as well as those from children’s charities and mental health charities.

The Redefining Sanity conference takes place in London at the Sattavis Patidar Centre, Forty Avenue, Wembley, on Wednesday; in Manchester at the Sion Arts Centre on 353 Stratford Road, Hulme, on Thursday, and in Birmingham at the Mount Zion Community Church on Thomas Street, Aston, on Friday.

Barnardo’s works with more than 100,000 children, young people and their families in 383 specialised projects in local communities across the UK.
For more information about Barnardo’s visit

Coreplan UK is a consultancy working in the social care and criminal justice sector and In-volve began as a drugs education and advice project.