Mental Health in N Ireland: A Growing Problem?

Posted: 28th Jul 2016

by Rory McGimpsey

Mental Health and Northern Ireland: A Growing Problem?

The prevalence of mental health problems in Northern Ireland is a well-documented phenomenon, but awareness doesn’t necessarily give us an understanding of the problem, let alone help find workable solutions. Sadly, all of us encounter such worries at some point in our lives, either directly or indirectly. Working in money advice, you have to have a basic understanding of mental health issues and the way in which they influence those living with debt. However, a heightened knowledge of the issue doesn’t make the subject any less concerning. We hear facts regarding mental health on a regular basis, but it’s still shocking to think of the reality many people face on a daily basis.

It’s estimated that mental illness costs the Northern Ireland economy over £3.5 billion every year.

Remarkably, this amounts to 12% of the region’s income! Even more tragically, it’s thought that over a third of children whose parents suffer mental health problems go on to experience similar difficulties themselves. How sad. Of course facts and figures can’t do justice to the real cost in human terms. Mere figures never reveal the true extent of human suffering. Lies, damned lies, and statistics? Not in this case. In fact, recent research neatly highlights the extent of this awful problem. Some of the more remarkable statistics include:

  • 268 deaths by suicide were recorded in Northern Ireland in 2014, according to NISRA.
  • Of those, just over three-quarters were men.
  • There were 6,233 suicides recorded across the UK in 2013 in respect of individuals over the age of 15. Of those tragedies, 78% were male and 22% female.
  • According to the Mental Health Foundation, only 5.5% of health research funding goes towards mental health issues. Given the disturbing figures above, this figure seems incredibly low.
  • The 2011 census revealed that 1 in 5 people living in Northern Ireland reported mental health difficulties in some form or other. This compares with 1 in 4 people across the UK.
  • Nonetheless, a 2007 survey reported that the prevalence of mental health problems was actually 20-25% higher in Northern Ireland than the rest of the UK.

The increasing prevalence of mental health issues is profoundly concerning for our society. If the above data is to be trusted, we can see some emerging trends. It’s obvious that mental health is a particularly significant issue in Northern Ireland. It’s equally clear it potentially affects young men more than women, if the statistics are to be believed. A possible conclusion derived from the figures is that mental health issues are perhaps more common in Northern Ireland, but individuals there are possibly more reticent to discuss them. The question of why such trends arise is a more challenging one than this blog can answer.

The fact that these trends exist at all presents a challenge for policy makers and legislators alike. In terms of Northern Ireland, there is a clear connection between limited employment prospects/economic difficulty and mental health issues. Educational underachievement is also an issue in many areas. It’s also possible that the Troubles is a contributory factor in and some research has been completed in respect of this connection. For example, Dr D O’Reilly and M Stevenson in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health concluded that it’s probable that the mental health of people living in Northern Ireland has been significantly affected by the Troubles, albeit noting that further research is needed.

If we accept that mental health issues afflict us all, the obvious question is, what can be done to counteract the problem and prevent such issues recurring in the future?

Research has indicated that staying busy is important in dealing with mental health issues when they arise. It’s been widely reported, for example, that those who work or who are otherwise active are at a much lower risk of developing mental health conditions. Talking worries through with a friend or relative is another positive step in finding help. Furthermore, regular exercise has been noted to benefit people living with mental health problems. There’s a myriad of charities that offer support to people suffering from mental health issues. For example, the Mind Wise charity offers detailed advice and information on living with mental illness and related conditions.

Eliminating unnecessary stress from your life can also be a critical component in managing anxiety and the effects of mental illness. The MHF website lists some constructive steps you can take to manage your own mental health.

Unfortunately, it’s clear that issues arising from mental health are extremely prevalent in modern society. While there are no easy answers or explanations, it’s important to remember that help is at hand. What’s more, while such issues can be particularly acute in regions like Northern Ireland, it’s obvious that this is a universal issue which affects us all. No-one is immune from such worries, and it’s vital all traces of outdated stigma are removed once and for all. It’s so important that people don’t suffer needlessly, and anyone concerned about any of these issues is directed to the available support services. Mental illness may or may not be increasing, but given the seriousness of the issue, it’s vital that anyone who’s worried gets the help they deserve.


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