If we accept Durkheim’s definition, the moral and psychological climate in Northern Ireland has been pretty dire since the GFA was signed.
Almost as many people have died from suicide in Northern Ireland since the signing of the Good Friday agreement as were killed during the entire Troubles.
Overall, the suicide rate for men and women doubled in the decade after 1998. Almost 75% of the people who committed suicide had no history of previous contact with mental health services. For those who knew them, the suicide “came out of the blue.”
Query: Did it? Or did it come out of the “Troubles”?
Growing up in a conflict zone is linked to suicide risk.
The World Mental Health Survey Initiative found high rates of mental disorders and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Northern Ireland due to long term exposure to crisis conditions.
This is in addition to the well-documented rise in suicide risk for those who have direct experience of the front line of conflict.
When people have been trapped in a situation over which they had little or no control at the beginning, middle or end, they can carry an intense sense of dread even after that situation is removed. This is because they know how bad things can possibly be. And they know that it could possibly happen again. And they know that if it ever does happen again, it might be worse than before.
Among the various theories that have been developed to explain suicide, the “cry of pain” or “arrested ﬂight” model seems most suitable to Northern Ireland.
Suicidal behaviour is an attempt to escape from the feeling of entrapment – i.e. the inability, or perceived inability, to escape from a negative environment or from one’s own inner turmoil (lack of problem-solving skills), after suffering a defeat, loss or humiliation (due to past trauma or adversity e.g. war/conﬂict), and the perception that there is no chance of being rescued (hopelessness)
The conflict has had, and continues to have, “deep and widespread effects” because it has been the context of daily life and experience for decades.
Professor Michael Tomlinson “The long-term violent conflict had a profound impact, because no matter which side people were on, all sides of the political divide ended up sanctioning violence to some extent.
A culture of violence “seeped into everyday life.”
“The transition to peace means that cultures of externalized aggression are no longer socially approved or politically acceptable. Violence and aggression have become more internalized instead.”
Query: How do we talk about the past and present suffering of people?
Leading psychologist Dr David Becker
“When you have a history of war and violent conflict you have to do something with this past which is not only in terms of justice and peace talks and whatever, but there is the psychological process of change involved”
“When things hurt we would like them to be past and gone by and over but you need room to grieve, you need people to confirm to you what happened. In a big way grief processes, healthy processes have a lot to do with acknowledgement, with sharing, with talking and recognising what has been lost and when that doesn’t happen people develop depressive processes“.
Query: What should we not do in cases of long-term PTSD?
Do not push your own agenda. Do not proselytize, moralize, speak in absolutes, tell them to “get over it”, or try to force reconciliation with the perpetrator or offer “sure fire” cures.
At a societal level it was suggested that social deprivation, the trauma legacy of the conﬂict and the transition out of conﬂict were highly signiﬁcant in creating a sense of hopelessness in the community where these young people were growing up.