Deprived areas of North twice as likely to develop mental health issues

Emerging trends may be a result of reinterpreting the impact of the Troubles

Northern Ireland: new research links   mental health issues  to  the Troubles, which included Bloody Sunday and its aftermath. Photograph: William L Rukeyser/Getty

Northern Ireland: new research links mental health issues to the Troubles, which included Bloody Sunday and its aftermath. Photograph: William L Rukeyser/Getty

 

Almost twice as many people living in the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland are showing signs of mental health issues compared to their counterparts in more affluent areas, according to new research.

A preliminary report by Ulster University revealed more than a quarter (27 per cent) of those living in the most deprived communities were displaying signs of mental health problems. The figure for the North’s “least deprived” communities is given as 14 per cent.

The research was presented by Richard Johnston, the deputy director of Ulster University’s economic policy centre. Siobhán O’Neill, professor of mental health sciences at the university, recently linked high levels of mental health issues to the impact of the Troubles.

In the largest study into the issue in Northern Ireland, she concluded that 40 per cent of the population had witnessed a traumatic event associated with the conflict, with 18 per cent having seen someone dead or seriously injured.

“All the evidence taken from people in Northern Ireland is that they are reinterpreting what they have seen or even done and it is retraumatising them,” she said.

According to the Samaritans, the suicide rate in the North now exceeds the UK average, with its figures showing an 18.5 per cent increase since 2014 compared to a 3.8 per cent rise in the UK as a whole.

The North’s chief medical officer, Dr Michael McBride, said only 30 per cent of people taking their own lives are known to the health service.

“We need to understand that the response to addressing suicide must be a societal one,” he said.

Figures for 2016, the most recent available from the NI statistics and research agency, show a total of 279 people took their lives that year, more than 70 per cent of them men.