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People who grew up during the troubles more prone to suicide, study finds

Professor Mike Tomlinson tells thejournal.ie that people have found the transition to peace difficult.

Local children taunt a British soldier as he stands guard in Derry, Northern Ireland on April 13, 1972, after an explosion in the city centre.
Local children taunt a British soldier as he stands guard in Derry, Northern Ireland on April 13, 1972, after an explosion in the city centre.
Image: Michel Lipchitz/AP/Press Association Images

CHILDREN WHO GREW up in Northern Ireland during the troubles are more prone to suicide, according to a new study carried out by Queens University Belfast.

Researchers found that young people who grew up in the worst years of the violence in the 1970s have the highest and most rapidly increasing suicide rates.

Contradicting previous research, which found that war reduced suicide through greater social interaction between people, Professor Mike Tomlinson found that the increase in suicide arose from a complex set of factors. These included a growth in social isolation, poor mental health and even the greater political stability of the past decade.

“People  born during that period have had everything framed for them in terms of antagonism, violence, conflict and division” Tomlinson told thejournal.ie.

“Whereas before it was normal to externalise those anxieties on others, people have now changed the way they deal with agression because it is no longer socially acceptable or approved to engage in external forms of hatred. So they internalise it instead.”

According to Tomlinson, the highest suicide rates are among those who grew up in the worst years of violence between 1969 and 1978.

His study found that the overall rate of suicide for both men and women in Northern Ireland doubled in the decade following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Suicide rates, as the graph below shows, rose from 8.6 per 100,000 of the population in 1998 to 16 per 100,000 by 2010. The rate was higher for men.

[caption id="attachment_532835" align="alignnone" width="630" caption="Northern Ireland suicide rates by gender, 1967–2008."][/caption]

Between 1965 and 2008, the number of suicides registered in Northern Ireland was 6131 of which 1751 were female. Over the period of the conflict, there were about a thousand more suicides than conflict-related killings.

“There has been a general change in the social and political culture” in Northern Ireland, says Tomlinson. “Along came peace, and how people deal with fears and agression changes.”

Isolation has increased dramatically, he found, with the annual number of divorces increasing three-fold during the troubles. By the end of the 1990s they were up five-fold. Men of working age are now twice as likely to be living alone than women, according to the study, while the proportion of families
headed by a lone mother increased from 10 to 23 percent between 1983 and 1998.

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