Classed Experiences of Mental Disorder: Examining the Intersection of Mental Disorder, Class, and Youth Offending

Roxana Willis held British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Centre for Criminology from xx to xxx.


The UK is experiencing a mental healthcare crisis: high rates of mental disorder, and a shortage of hospital beds, can lead individuals who exhibit signs of mental distress to be detained in police custody. The Royal College of Police reports this crisis as worsening, and the government has allocated £15 million toward diverting individuals with mental disorders from police custody into healthcare facilities. Mentally distressed persons in police custody likely come from disadvantaged backgrounds; however, research has not explored the relationship between offending behaviour and the classed ways mental disorder may manifest. The proposed work supports our understanding of crucial issues in criminology, psychiatry, and law by examining the intersection of mental disorder, class, and youth offending.


Mental disorder and disadvantage are recurring factors in offenders' lives, and yet both are under-investigated areas of criminology (Steele and Thomas 2014; Gillies 2005). Moreover, there is a marked overlap between findings that predict social causes of mental disorder and criminogenic factors. Bentall (2014), for example, suggests that child abuse, poverty, ethnicity, and parental 'communication deviance' are among the factors frequently found in the lives of those who experience psychosis. Similarly, some of these same environmental factors are often appealed to when explaining the causes of criminal behaviour (Godfrey et al. 2007; Farrall and Calverley 2005; Laub and Sampson 2001). Promising research about these overlaps is in its infancy (Shepherd and Purcell 2015; Becker et al. 2012). This research project adopts a classed approach — based on a Bourdieusian framework sensitive to economic, social, and cultural factors — to illuminate the complex relationship between mental disorder and youth offending.

Knowledge generated by this study aims to be of cross-disciplinary benefit, enhancing scholarly perceptions of mentally disordered offenders, criminogenic factors, the significance of class, and aetiologies of mental illness. A further aim of the research is to offer practical insight for institutions working with young persons. By collaborating closely with schools, police, youth offender services, and youth mental health teams throughout, responses shaped by those directly concerned can arise.