Higher risk of suicide among ‘Troubles children’

People who grew up in the worst years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland are more prone to suicide, according to research at Queen’s University Belfast.

The study found the highest suicide rate among men aged 35-44. Previously, younger men were believed most at risk.

Professor Mike Tomlinson said health staff may have put an over-emphasis on treating people in younger age groups.

This would have meant a failure to focus on those who experienced the worst of the violence, he said.

The professor said Northern Ireland’s suicide prevention strategy had so far made little impact on the upward trend.
Rapidly increasing

The research, which examined death registration data over the past 40 years, found that the highest suicide rate was for men then 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 were the group that now has the highest suicide rates and the most rapidly increasing rates of all age groups.

Suicide rates for men rose from 13 per 100,000 of the population in 1997 to 24 per 100,000 by 2008.

For women, the increase was from a rate of 3.9 to 7.3 over the same period.

Speaking about his research, Professor Tomlinson, from the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work at Queen’s, said: “The rise in suicide rates in the decade from 1998 to 2008 coincides with the move from conflict to peace in Northern Ireland.

“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.

“The transition to peace means that cultures of externalised aggression are no longer socially approved or politically acceptable.”

He said people seemed 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”.

“During the 1970s and 1980s, the suicide rate rose steadily up to a rate of 10 per 100,000, low by international standards. It then fell slightly over a ten-year period.

“The puzzle is, why have we seen such a dramatic increase in the rate since 1998?” Professor Tomlinson asked.