Over 40% of Irish adults have mental health disorder, study finds

Most common disorder is insomnia followed by major depression

More than 40 per cent of Irish adults have a mental health disorder, a study by academics from Maynooth University, National College of Ireland and Trinity College Dublin has found.

The most common disorder was insomnia (15 per cent), followed by major depression disorder at 12 per cent, alcohol use disorder at 9 per cent and generalised anxiety disorder at 7 per cent.

People in the population most likely to have a mental health disorder were younger in age and working in a job requiring shift work, and they had experienced a traumatic life event.

The study, which consisted of a nationally representative sample of 1,100 adults living in Ireland, is described as the first comprehensive assessment of the occurrence of multiple mental health disorders and attempted suicide in the State.

The researchers, Dr Philip Hyland of Maynooth University, Dr Robert Fox of National College of Ireland and Dr Frédérique Vallières of Trinity College Dublin, screened people for 12 mental health disorders and asked them about lifetime history of attempted suicide.

Eleven per cent of respondents reported having attempted suicide at some point in their lifetime.

Suicide prevention

While seemingly high, the figure is broadly in line with the sorts of figures published by American suicide-prevention organisations.

The America Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide and Save.org both estimate that there are about 25 suicide attempts made for every death by suicide recorded. A similar ratio here would suggest roughly 10,000 attempted suicides in Ireland in 2021.

People with a mental health disorder were five times more likely than those without to have attempted suicide.

The study has been published in the Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences journal.

Mental health disorders most strongly associated with having attempted suicide included psychosis, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia and borderline personality disorder.

Dr Hyland, who led the study, said their findings showed that 42 per cent of adults in Ireland are likely to be experiencing a mental health disorder at any point in time.

Human cost

“Studies by the World Health Organisation indicate that the figure is similar to what has been found in the United States and New Zealand,” he said.

“Mental health disorders are extremely common, and it is important that the public and the Irish Government understand the level of need that exists.”

Dr Fox said mental health disorders not only “carry a large human cost, but also cost the global economy over $3 trillion a year”.

“Reducing the prevalence of mental health problems in society will not only save many lives, but it will also have enormous economic benefits,” he said.

Dr Vallières said mental health disorders were more and more common in younger age groups.

“People aged 18-24 years were eight times more likely than people aged 55 and older to have a mental health disorder,” he said.

“Furthermore, people whose job requires shift work and those exposed to trauma were also at greater risk of having a mental health disorder.

“We know that for two-thirds of people with a mental health disorder, their first onset occurs before the age of 25. The earlier we can identify and intervene to help those at risk, the better.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can freephone the Samaritans 24 hours a day for confidential support at 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times