Troubles damaged mental health of North residents, report finds

Findings are based on series of analyses of childhood trauma and of college students

A file image from July 21st, 1972 showing emergency crews at the scene of an explosion in Belfast. This day, when a total of 27 bombs were detonated in Northern Ireland, later became known as Bloody Friday. Photograph: PA

A file image from July 21st, 1972 showing emergency crews at the scene of an explosion in Belfast. This day, when a total of 27 bombs were detonated in Northern Ireland, later became known as Bloody Friday. Photograph: PA

 

The Troubles had a very detrimental impact on the mental health and suicidal behaviours of Northern Ireland citizens, new research by Ulster University has found.

It also says exposure to adversities and violence in childhood can effect the next generation of children and not just the person who experienced it firsthand.

Childhood Adversities in Northern Ireland, published on Tuesday in conjunction with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), examined how different factors including theTroubles affected people living in Northern Ireland population.

Those who experienced conflict, as well as other adversities, and who had psychological problems, were found to be more than 15 times more likely to engage in suicidal behaviour.

The findings were based on a series of analyses of childhood trauma by the Northern Ireland Study of Health and Stress, part of a broader World Health Organisation (WHO) initiative, as well as on a study of over 700 Ulster University students.

It found about one third (32 per cent) of the population had experienced childhood adversity - for example economic adversity rates were higher than in other countries - and said this would have consequent effects on adult suicidal behaviour.

“The Troubles had a very detrimental impact on psychological health and suicidal behaviour in Northern Ireland,” the study found.

“However, childhood adversities also played a very significant role, resulting in high levels of suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts.”

To date, it found, there has been little in the way of empirical evidence regarding the effects of childhood adversity in Northern Ireland, particularly given its coinciding exposure to conflict.

It found those who had experienced conflict were more likely to develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), although the greatest cause of this condition is childhood maltreatment.

“When individuals experienced conflict, along with high levels of childhood adversities they were more likely to report suicidal behaviour,” the study found.

The study also identified elevated rates of self-harm and suicidal behaviour among first year university students.

Siobhan O’Neill professor of Mental Health Sciences at Ulster University said the association between adversity in childhood and mental health in later lifewas complex.

“Nonetheless, exposure to high levels of adversity in childhood can lead to mental illness, and increases the likelihood of a person developing PTSD after a traumatic event,” she said.

“This affects not only on the person who experienced the adversities and trauma, but also on their offspring, and may affect subsequent generations.”