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Global Perspectives Trauma, the Troubles and Suicide in Northern Ireland: What are the Connections?

September 29, 2017

This research upon which this article is based is from a program of work examining the trans-generational impact of the Troubles’ legacy on mental health and suicide in Northern Ireland, funded by the Commission for Victims and Survivors Northern Ireland and the Research and Development Division of the Northern Ireland Public Health Agency.

It is now generally recognized that the events of the Northern Ireland Troubles—a term used to refer to the violent political civil unrest that erupted in the late 1960s and spanned the next 30 years —have had a profound effect on the mental health of the population. The post-conflict period also has seen a rise in the suicide rates and there is speculation regarding the role of the Troubles in explaining this rise (Tomlinson, 2012).

This article considers evidence from the Northern Ireland Study of Health and Stress and the database of deaths by suicide in Northern Ireland on the associations between suicidal behaviour and exposure to the Troubles. It examines the environmental and contextual predictors of population suicide rates, the association between the Troubles, mental disorders and suicide, the association between trauma exposure and suicide and the links with medication and alcohol use.

The database of suicides in Northern Ireland was developed using the coroner’s files on suicides and undetermined deaths. Following ethical approval from Ulster University Research Ethics Committee, the electronic database was compiled by Dr Colette Corry. Each case of undetermined death or ICD ‘suicide’ was given a unique code, information from the files were binary coded and unusual cases were coded ‘other’ to protect anonymity. Information on events prior to death was obtained from police reports; medical details and prescribed medications were provided by General Practitioners (GPs).

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