Sharp rise in NI suicide rates


Suicide rates in Northern Ireland have doubled since the signing of the Belfast agreement in 1998, new research has revealed.

Queen’s University in Belfast found suicide levels have soared since the end of the Troubles, though the deaths are occurring among those who grew up during the worst years of violence.

Social upheaval was said to have caused “mass medication” through anti-depressants, alcohol and illegal drug use, while aggression that was once widespread in the divided society has become more internalised.

The overall rate of suicide in Northern Ireland doubled in the decade following the Good Friday agreement, rising from 8.6 per 100,000 of the population in 1998 to 16 per 100,000 by 2010.

Researchers also found that levels of self-harm in Derry far exceeded the rates detected in other major cities in Britain and the Irish Republic.

Prof Mike Tomlinson said suicide prevention strategies in Northern Ireland are failing to combat the rise, and said they could be targeting the wrong age groups.

“The rise in suicide rates in the decade from 1998 to 2008 coincide with the move from conflict to peace in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“The transition to peace means that cultures of externalised aggression are no longer socially approved or politically acceptable. Violence and aggression have become more internalised instead.

“We seem to have adjusted to peace by means of mass medication with anti-depressants, alcohol and non-prescription drugs, the consumption of which has risen dramatically in the period of peace.”

His research, which examined death registration data over the last 40 years, found that the highest suicide rate is for men aged 35-44 (41 per 100,000 by 2010), followed closely by the 25-34 and 45-54 age groups.

The findings showed that children who grew up in the worst years of violence between 1969 and 1977-78 are the group which now has the highest suicide rates and the most rapidly increasing rates of all age groups.

Suicide rates for men went from 13 per 100,000 of the population in 1997 to 24 per 100,000 by 2008, while in women the increase was from a rate of 3.9 to 7.3 over the same period.

The research also compared hospital presentations resulting from self-harming in nine cities across Britain, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

It found that Derry had the highest rate of such presentations, with 611 per 100,000 of the population in 2009, while Dublin had a rate of 352 presentations in the same year.

The self-harm rate in Derry was higher than that of Manchester, Leeds, Oxford, Limerick, Cork, Galway and Waterford.

Professor Tomlinson said: “During the 1970s and 1980s, the suicide rate rose steadily up to a rate of 10 per 100,000, low by international standards.

“It then fell slightly over a ten year period. The puzzle is, why have we seen such a dramatic increase in the rate since 1998?

“What this research reveals for the first time is that the age groups with the highest suicide rates are the cohort who were children during the worst years of violence.

“Those born and growing up in the conflict experienced no other social context until the late 1990s. There are clear indications from the research that this cohort not only has the highest suicide rate but also the most rapidly increasing rate when compared with other age groups.”