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Link between trauma of Troubles and suicidal behaviour is confirmed

By Claire Williamson

A direct link between suicidal behaviour in Northern Ireland and traumatic or conflict-related experiences has been found for the first time.

The findings are based on extensive data from the University of Ulster's major study of the population's mental health as part of the World Health Organisation's World Mental Health Survey Initiative.

The university carried out detailed analysis of suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts in a sample of more than 4,000 people.

The research is based upon the Mental Health Survey Initiative carried out in Northern Ireland.

This is one of a series of identical studies undertaken in more than 30 countries across the world which assess mental health based on psychiatric criteria and symptoms. Comparisons with other published international studies show that Northern Ireland has one of the highest rates of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with high levels of experiencing violence associated with the conflict in Northern Ireland.

The lead author of the paper Professor Siobhan O'Neill, from the Bamford Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing at the University's Magee Campus, said the findings were important to ensure healthcare providers can recognise those at risk.

She said: "This is the first time evidence clearly demonstrating a trend of suicidal behaviour in people who have suffered, or witnessed, a traumatic conflict-related event has been found. The research also identifies lower levels of suicide attempts in this group suggesting, more worryingly, that this group may be more likely to actually take their own life on the first attempt.

"Our previous research has already shown that people who have been affected by the conflict have more severe and long lasting mental disorders.

"This new research is hugely significant because it demonstrates a new link between conflict and thinking about suicide.

"These findings are important as they can ensure healthcare providers are aware of new risk patterns, can recognise behaviour patterns and identify those at highest risk."


The Bamford Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing and the Northern Ireland Centre for Trauma and Transformation carried out a series of studies into the impact of the conflict in Northern Ireland from 2003-2014 and published a series of papers and reports describing the human costs of the violence. The current paper is the latest in the series of papers on the impact of the years of violence. For the first time a direct link has been found between suicidal behaviour in Northern Ireland and having had traumatic or conflict-related experiences.

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