NI second highest in world mental health study

Northern Ireland’s rates of mental health disorders are among the highest in 17 regions and countries, new evidence has found, with the region coming second to America.

A major research initiative has been launched at University of Ulster’s Magee campus which highlights the gravity of the problem.

The study was carried out by the newly opened Bamford Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing and involved various countries around the world including China, South Africa and Lebanon.

Depression is already recognised as the most common reason for people to visit their GPs in Northern Ireland, however, the report has highlighted a wide disparity in how long it takes people to seek professional help in the region.

One of its main findings was that in any one year around one in four people in Northern Ireland present symptoms that could be related to one or more mental health conditions.

Professor Brendan Bunting, Centre Director, warned that people with anxiety issues often suffer in silence too long with some delaying seeking help by more than 20 years.

Prof Bunting said: “The findings reveal the extent of the suffering caused by mental health problems in our population and highlight the importance of finding ways in which we can enhance the mental
resources within our society.

“The results also indicated that while access to services was high, nevertheless only 40% of those with a disorder sought treatment in any given year.

“People with depression were among the most likely to seek treatment early, waiting on average a year, although over 25% of individuals in this category waited 10 years or more before seeking treatment.

“However, those with anxiety disorders waited on average over 20 years before asking for help. Individuals with substance disorders waited on average 15 years.”

The international comparative survey was part of the World Mental Health Initiative and involved more than 4,300 members of the public in Northern Ireland giving detailed interviews.

Over the years, researchers at University of Ulster have built up solid reputation internationally regarding their research in the area of mental health.

Their work continues to shape government policies providing a wealth of statistics and data that influences therapeutic approaches and a continuous worldwide debate on mental health issues.

Prof Bunting and senior Centre colleagues are members of the World Mental Health Consortium (WMHC) which is a select band of some 30 research groups in universities and institutes that share exclusive data and conduct joint projects.

Among their partners is the much acclaimed Harvard Institute of Mental Health.

The Centre, which was officially launched on Wednesday by Professor Norman Black, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) at University of Ulster, is expected to crucially add to the health-skills base in the north west.

It co-ordinates the work of 40 academic and post-graduate students with research currently under way on the economic impact of depression, patterns of post-traumatic stress, incidence of suicide and factors in self-harming.

Named after the late Professor David Bamford, the former University of Ulster academic made outstanding contributions to academic and policy developments in the Centre’s specialist areas.

The Centre will develop new fields of joint study with academic colleagues who work across a wide range of disciplines on the University’s four campuses.

Professor Black said: “In this Centre we now have in place an opportunity to develop further strengths in a number of areas, including computational science, clinical methodology, nursing, social work and psychology.

“This builds on the excellent research that has been produced over a number of years and is an indication of the research strengths on the Magee campus, in association with colleagues on other campuses, and through numerous national and international collaborations.”