What’s Behind Northern Ireland’s Mental Health Crisis?

April 2018 marked the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement being signed in Northern Ireland, which aimed to end conflict between Irish republicans, British state forces and loyalists. But after the agreement was signed, staggering amounts of suicides and reports of mental health issues occurred. Today in Northern Ireland, more people have died from suicide in the last 20 years than were killed during three decades of conflict. So how did this mental health crisis occur and what can the area’s history tell us about it?

The conflict over the region began in the early 20th century, with an Irish rebellion against British forces. The religious tensions in the area eventually caused Northern Ireland to form as an offshoot of Ireland, and there was plenty of violence between opposing forces.

Ulster University’s Siobhan O’Neill believes the bloody conflict of that time contributed to the high amount of depression and PTSD that plagued the area. She also hypothesizes that the impact of being parented by those exposed to trauma caused the next generation in Northern Ireland to have mental health issues.

Last year, Prime Minister Theresa May promised the area $70 million to be used over five years towards mental health programs — but that money still hasn’t been given. This, along with shaky infrastructure, high unemployment rates and the fallout from Brexit also likely contribute to the area’s abnormal mental health rates.  

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