The link between mental health and the riots

Lucie Russell
5 Jan 2012

The Riots, Communities and Victims Panel is today meeting the Transition to Adulthood Alliance, of which YoungMinds is a member, to discuss the difficulties young people face with transitions.

Up to 90% of the prison population of young offenders have one or more mental health problems.

A lack of three emotional characteristics typify antisocial behaviour and criminal activity. These are lack of empathy, an absence of emotional regulation, especially around feelings of anger, and a disregard and lack of understanding of consequences. These characteristics were all present in the actions of looters and rioters and therefore indicate that criminal behaviour has a mental health element to it as young people with good mental health have empathy, are able to regulate their emotions and understand consequences.

It is well known that many young people who are involved in the criminal justice system have mental health issues; up to 90% of the prison population of young offenders have one or more mental health problems. Recent statistics from the Home Office about those involved in the riots showed that two-thirds of them were on the Special Needs Register at school. We believe at YoungMinds that violence and aggression is a mental health issue and needs to be addressed through building emotional resilience and teaching young people to mange their emotions, consider the consequences of their actions and develop empathy including those in the transition to adulthood.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS) also need to make themselves more accessible to young people especially those at risk, to ensure they receive support and appropriate services.  The way mental health services are commissioned and configured makes it very difficult for young people who are offending to get the support they need. For example, young people who are diagnosed with disorders like ADHD, mild learning difficulties, autism spectrum disorders and personality disorder, even if seen by CAMHS services, will not be taken on by adult services; prisons have a high proportion of young people with these disorders and therefore the gap in service provision is manifested in the make-up of the young people’s prison population where mental health problems are rife.

Many young people in the criminal justice system have a host of other vulnerabilities including being the victims of sexual and physical abuse, neglect, school exclusion, drug and alcohol addiction, unemployment and homelessness. The relationship between these vulnerabilities and mental health issues are well known and therefore poor provision of mental health support just adds to all these issues.

The transition from children’s mental health services to adult services at 18 years of age is also a problematic issue as many young people do not make the transition and end up lost in the system, not receiving the support they need and consequently their offending behaviour increases.

YoungMinds is a member of the Transition to Adulthood Alliance.
The Independent Riots, Communities and Victims Panel was set up by the Government to help understand why the riots took place.

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  • Mark Urry
    about 5 years ago

    Thank you Lucie for this article which I feel adresses a lot of issues. I look forward to seeing what comes from your meeting. I am the director of Beating Anger Bath an anger management clinic in the South West. I am part of the British Association of Anger Management and as an organisation we are trying to raise awareness of the vital 'skill' of emotional resilience. For young people to have a healthy relationship with their emotions it needs to be taught. If their role models express anger in an unhealthy way it becomes a learned aspect of their lives and one that can be deeply engrained. The education system does not include emotions, and for many young people anger is a negative emotion. Teaching individuals to have awareness around their emotions leads to them having control over them leading to increased confidence, communication skills and tackles the biggest issue in young people self-esteem. From this consequences of behaviour and empathy are developed. Custodial sentences have there place but working with young people and empowering them to take control of their lives I feel will have a greater impact and one that will lead them into adulthood and throughout their lives.

  • Harvey Sixer
    about 5 years ago

    All human behaviour has a mental Health element. To claim that criminal activities (antisocial social or deviant behaviours) has any greater association with mental illness is ultimately to reinforce negative assumptions about individuals who experience mental illness. Taken to it's ridiculous conclusion it would be reasonable to assume that if not already a criminal then a young person experiencing mental health issues was in effect a prodromal criminal, an offender in waiting.

    I would be very surprised if this is what you meant. You do make passing reference to the link between mental Health and environmental issues such as homelessness, abuse (I include bullying in schools as abuse) and unemployment . It may be more helpful to see the rioters behaviours as psychological adaptation to environment rather than some manifestation of personality traits such as  emotional regulation, empathy and understanding of consequences. Whilst to the socially well heeled the psychological adaptations of the rioters may seem psychologically illiterate. They may (sadly) within their environment, provide and support the necessary behaviours to survive and prosper.

    Yes Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) need to become more accessible to those they seek to serve, yes they need to focus on prevention as much they do on recovery and yes there needs to be better transition from CAMHS to adult services. But improving the general mental health of the population is not the sole responsibility of CAMHS or Mental Health Services in general, rather it is the responsibility of all social agencies. Yet if we as a society only focus on the individual exhibiting antisocial behaviour and leave remedial intervention to mental health services, we will condemn every future generation to dealing with the same set of problems. Rather we need to develop responses that that tackle the complex interplay of environment and individual and that is the responsibility of all agencies.

  • Chris Leaman
    about 5 years ago

    @Harvey Sixer - I think you have to take a look at the context of the blog post which was an adaption of YoungMinds response to the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel and the work they were doing in looking at transitions. We should have perhaps have made that clearer when we put up the blog post.

    Chris Leaman - Media and Public Affairs Officer, YoungMinds

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