Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Conflict linked to rise in suicides

Research from Queen's University Belfast suggests the number of deaths from suicide has almost doubled since 1998

Links between Northern Ireland's surging suicide rate and the violent conflict have been neglected, it has been claimed.

The number of deaths has almost doubled since 1998, disproportionately among men who were children during the worst violence of the 1970s, research from Queen's University Belfast (QUB) suggested.

Professor Mike Tomlinson addressed a meeting at Stormont and said the upward trend contrasted with declining levels in other parts of the UK and Ireland.

"The most neglected explanation is that the surge in suicides post-1998 is associated in some way with the violent conflict of the past," he said. "There is good evidence of a population-wide conflict-related effect."

Coroners in Northern Ireland registered 223 deaths by suicide between January and September last year.

The number of suicide deaths in Northern Ireland stands at 16 per 100,000, compared to eight per 100,000 in 1998, the professor's research said.

His study found the increase was mainly accounted for by men of working age in their middle years, who were young when the troubles were at their fiercest and bombings and shootings were a regular occurrence.

Professor Tomlinson said: "Children caught up in adverse, violent situations will be less psychologically resilient in later life. The cohort of children that grew up with the conflict were the most acculturated to division and conflict and to externalised expressions of aggression. The consequence of peace is that such expressions of aggression and violence are no longer socially or politically approved and, arguably, become internalised instead."

Stormont's health department has a suicide prevention strategy which includes the Lifeline telephone helpline to provide counselling for those at risk.

Professor Tomlinson reported the highest suicide incidence among men tended to be in the 35-44 age group. Levels for men aged more than 75 doubled while the equivalent female rate was relatively stable over a six year period from 2006. The overall male prevalence was 1.5 times the female rate in 1978 but is now around 3.5 times.

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