Young Men Face Soaring Suicide Rate As Ulster Leaves The Troubles Behind

Suicide rates among young men in Northern Ireland have risen by more than a third since the end of the Trouble. Research conducted at Belfast City Hospital indicates a 34% increase in the number of suicides among men aged 25 to 34 since the 1994 ceasefire, and a 26.5% increase among those aged 15 to 24.

There has been no shortage of anecdotal evidence that suicides among young men have risen rapidly since the end of the Troubles. Portadown, Co Armagh, is the latest town to be hit by tragedy after three 15-year-old friends killed themselves within three weeks of each other.

Experts have been puzzled that suicides overall have increased only by 4.7 per cent since 1994, However, the new research, to be presented today by Maeve Largey, a psychiatrist at Belfast City Hospital, at a conference hosted by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Edinburgh, indicates that a fall in suicides among older men and women has been masking the high number among young men.

“This is clearly very worrying,” Dr Largey said. “We saw a similar trend in England and Wales in the early 1990s, when a period of high economic growth meant a number of people suddenly became richer, and great wealth disparities emerged.

“We are now seeing that in Northern Ireland. Other factors include a decline in the rate of marriage, more divorce and an increase in drug and alcohol abuse, which can also all relate to suicide.”

Northern Ireland’s economy has grown strongly since the end of the Troubles, helping to bring down high unemployment, particularly among the young. However, the growth of personal prosperity among high earners has been even more marked.  
Property prices are soaring by about 25 per cent a year.Communities in other parts of the UK have struggled with a sudden influx of wealth, but the end of the Troubles is distinct to Northern Ireland. The years of violence meant strong social cohesion. That provided strong support for young people and was being eroded, Dr Largey said.

A suicide prevention strategy was put in place in Northern Ireland last autumn. A 24-hour helpline has been set up as a pilot scheme and “awareness training” for GPs has begun. However, there has been criticism of mental health sevices for children and teenagers in Northern Ireland, with waiting lists of often more than a year for an appointment to see a specialist.

A Peacetime Challenge

  • A quarter of all deaths of people aged 15 to 34 between 2000 and 2005 were attributed to suicide
  • The suicide rate is higher in Catholic areas than in mixed or Protestant areas
  • More suicides were in urban areas than rural
  • West Belfast has the highest rate; rural Mid-Ulster and East Belfast the lowest

Source: Suicide and Self harm in Northern Ireland 2000-2005, Northern Ireland Information Directorate