30/08/2005

Suicide rates rise follows end of 'Troubles'

The number of people in Northern Ireland who have committed suicide since the end of the Troubles has risen, according to new research.

The study, carried out by the University of Ulster and the Department of Psychiatry at the Mater Hospital Trust, reveals that the 'Troubles' may have actually kept suicide levels down for more than 30 years.

The researchers believe that the civil unrest may have strengthened social bonds within communities and “buffered” individuals from thoughts of taking their own lives.

During the worst years of violence the number of people committing suicide fell significantly and now that there is relative peace, suicide is on the rise.

"Where you have areas of conflict the rate of suicide tends to drop during that period," report author Iain McGowan, Nursing lecturer at the University of Ulster, said.

"We believe that civil unrest led to extreme polarization of communities and the ghettoization of large parts of Northern Ireland, these ghettos becoming an oasis for the population resident in them, and ‘‘no-go’’ areas for outsiders.

"In effect, polarized political civil unrest has the potential to foster and develop a sense of community in these pockets, drawn together by a common desire to survive together and a perceived sense of injustice. This appears to have buffered the population from the excesses and psychiatric morbidity possibly resultant from the troubles and protected them from suicide.”

Mr McGowan examined the trends in suicide rates and terrorist related deaths in Northern Ireland from 1966 to 1999. In the 34-year period more than 7,000 people died – almost evenly divided between those who took their own lives and those who were murdered in terrorist-related incidents.

He found a direct relationship between the two – when terrorism increased, suicide fell and vice versa. The lowest year for suicide deaths was 1972 when 47 people took their own lives. This coincided with the highest homicide toll when 497 people were killed in terrorist related incidents.

(MB/SP)

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