Monday, August 29, 2005

Suicide rate rises after the Troubles

Jan Battles:

PEACE in Northern Ireland has had one unforeseen consequence: a rising suicide rate. Health experts now believe the Troubles kept suicide levels in the province down for more than 30 years.

The authors of a new study say the civil unrest may have strengthened social bonds within communities and “buffered” individuals from thoughts of taking their own lives.

The research, by the University of Ulster and the department of psychiatry at the Mater Hospital Trust in Belfast, discovered an inverse relationship between suicide and terrorist- related deaths. The numbers taking their own lives fell during the worst years of violence, according to the study which is published in the Journal of Mental Health. Now that there is relative peace in the province, suicide is on the rise.

The highest annual suicide tolls since 1966 were recorded in 2000 when 163 people took their lives, and in 2002 when there were 162 suicides.

The study’s authors say that when people come together to confront a general threat they tend to think less about themselves as individuals and more of the common cause and so suicidal thoughts may be pushed to the back of their minds.

The finding in Northern Ireland mirrors other research which has discovered falling suicide rates in areas of conflict around the world. A 2002 study found there were reduced suicide rates during both world wars and even as far back as the French revolution sociologists were linking social integration and suicide.

The thesis may explain why Northern Ireland has a significantly lower suicide rate than the republic — with only 8.5 per 100,000 of the population compared with 12.5 per 100,000 in the republic, according to 2003 figures presented at a conference on suicide prevention last week.

“Where you have areas of civil conflict the rate of suicide tends to drop during that period,” said Iain McGowan, a lecturer in nursing at the University of Ulster, Coleraine and one of the authors of the study. McGowan examined trends in suicide rates and terrorist-related deaths in the North 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 slaughtered in terrorist-related incidents. Of the 3,413 suicides, 2,376 were male and the overall prevalence of suicide over the 34-year period was 6.4 per 100,000 population. There were 3,638 terrorist-related deaths in that time — or almost seven per 100,000. Men were more than six times more likely to die in a terrorist-related incident than women.

McGowan 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 as a result of the conflict in Northern Ireland. The following year the deaths from the Troubles dropped to 263, while the number of suicides rose to 70.

Between 1971 and 1982 more people died as a result of terrorism but since then, apart from a brief period in 1988, suicide deaths have outnumbered those killed in the Troubles.

This shows that tribal violence as has been seen in the north of Ireland is normal. The idea that indigenous Irish Catholics should live in peace with British colonists is nothing more than a recipe for higher suicide rates. The best way to reduce the suicide rate amongst indigenous Irish Catholics is to make war against the British colonists. In other words, "peaceful coexistence" equals suicide.

Suicide rates could take years to fall, warns expert


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