“We seem to have adjusted to peace by means of mass medication…”

Some contrasting reports to note on health and well-being in Northern Ireland.  We knew in February this year that “the people of Northern Ireland are the happiest in the United Kingdom”.  That’s by their own subjective assessment, of course.  And a more detailed breakdown of the data suggests you might feel even happier living in some areas of Scotland.  As long as you’re employed, older, and in good health…

Of more significance is the study by Professor Mike Tomlinson– “War, peace and suicide: The case of Northern Ireland“.

As the BBC report notes

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.

The Irish Times report has some of the telling detail

Prof Mike Tomlinson said suicide prevention strategies in Northern Ireland are failing to combat the rise, and said they could be targeting the wrong age groups.

“The rise in suicide rates in the decade from 1998 to 2008 coincide with the move from conflict to peace in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“The transition to peace means that cultures of externalised aggression are no longer socially approved or politically acceptable. Violence and aggression have become more internalised instead.

“We seem 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.” [added emphasis]

His research, which examined death registration data over the last 40 years, found that the highest suicide rate is for men 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 are the group which now has the highest suicide rates and the most rapidly increasing rates of all age groups. [added emphasis]

Suicide rates for men went from 13 per 100,000 of the population in 1997 to 24 per 100,000 by 2008, while in women the increase was from a rate of 3.9 to 7.3 over the same period.

The Irish Times also notes that Londonderry has the highest level of hospital presentations resulting from self-harming in nine cities across the UK and Ireland, “with 611 per 100,000 of the population in 2009, while Dublin had a rate of 352 presentations in the same year”.

The final quote in the Irish Times report is also worth highlighting

Professor Tomlinson said: “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?

“What this research reveals for the first time is that the age groups with the highest suicide rates are the cohort who were children during the worst years of violence.

“Those born and growing up in the conflict experienced no other social context until the late 1990s. There are clear indications from the research that this cohort not only has the highest suicide rate but also the most rapidly increasing rate when compared with other age groups.” [added emphasis]

And from the study’s abstract

Contrary to Durkheim, the recent rise in suicide involves a complex 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 externalized aggression is no longer socially approved. It becomes internalized instead.