University of Ulster Report highlights the Increasing Trans-generational Impact of the Troubles on Mental Health

The findings from the research project established that the social, political and economic

legacy of the conflict was complex, wide ranging and multidimensional. However, despite

this, most people in Northern Ireland, including those who have directly witnessed the years

of violence, suffered no, or minimal, long term mental health disorders.  In fact, many of those

exposed to traumatic experiences responded with notable levels of resilience and, with time,

processed their experiences and went on to live fulfilling, meaningful lives. This research

revealed that the group of people with few adverse mental health difficulties or adversities

represents around 71.5% of the population. However, the mental health difficulties of at least

half of the remaining 28.5% appear to be directly related to the Troubles.  Based on an adult

population figure of 1.5 million, this equates to around 213,000 adults. These figures are

based on robust, internationally comparable data, adopting the same criteria for mental

disorders as used by psychiatrists and point to the Troubles as a significant and distinctive

stressor in the life of the community in Northern Ireland, over many years to circa 1968 to

the present).

Traumatic experiences and exposure to violence can lead to adverse mental health

and other consequences not only for the person themselves, but also for their children and

potentially, their grandchildren, resulting in a trans-generational cycle which impacts upon

the well-being of subsequent generations.  Specifically, the effects of violence, traumatic

experiences and social segregation impact upon parenting practices which affect early

attachment and the capacity of the child to self-regulate.  Self-regulation difficulties increase

the person’s risk of mental disorders, behavioural problems and suicide.  They also affect

how that person engages with their own children when they become a parent.  The

accumulation of childhood toxic stress, resulting from negative parenting behaviours,

exposure to violence and the use of harsh punishment, is associated with adverse mental

health outcomes.  Social deprivation and poverty serve to exacerbate the mental health

impact of the consequences of the conflict.

Opportunities for each of us to develop, amongst other things, effective and meaningful

attachments, are very important matters for societies concerned with promoting the

development of children and maximising their potential as adults.  Failure to do so by the

age of four years has been shown time and again to increase risks in adult life across a range

of indicators such as development, educational attainment, average income, health (physical

and mental) and adverse engagement with the criminal justice system.  These studies

suggest that investments in child development (which includes services for children, parents

and other carers), for adolescents and young adults are for any society, an obvious priority.

Self-regulation difficulties which may arise as a result of poor attachments and toxic stress,

increase the person’s risk of mental disorders, behavioural problems and suicide.  They also

affect how that person engages with their own children when they become a parent.  The

accumulation of childhood toxic stress, resulting from negative parenting behaviours,

exposure to violence and the use of harsh punishment, is associated with adverse mental

health outcomes.  Social deprivation and poverty serve to exacerbate the mental health

impact of adverse events in the life of a family, including the consequences of the conflict.

Many of the services currently offered by the statutory and non-statutory sectors to address

the mental health needs of those affected by the Troubles, match the recommended

interventions for people with mild to moderate mental disorders.  Statutory services (and

some non-statutory services) also provide a range of treatments for people with moderate to

severe mental health problems and functional impairment.  There is significant concern

however, about the level of unmet need and the potential for the trans-generational

transmission of the impact of the conflict’s legacy that results from this unmet   need.  The

Northern Ireland Study of Health and Stress found that approximately 40% of those people

with a mental disorder received treatment.  Therefore, potentially 60% of the population (up

to 127,800 adults) with mental health problems directly related to the Troubles have not

received treatment.  

To read the full report please visit

http://www.cvsni.org/images/policy-research/pubs/march_2015/Towards_a_Bette_Future_for_Web.pdf