July 25, 2012
Suicide rates in Northern Ireland have doubled since the signing of the Good Friday peace 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 Londonderry far exceeded the rates detected in other major cities in Britain and the Irish Republic.
Professor 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 increase in suicide rates can be attributed to a complex range of social and psychological factors. These include the growth in social isolation, poor mental health arising from the experience of conflict, and the greater political stability of the past decade."
He added: "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.