Understanding the mental health landscape in Northern Ireland
Poor mental health is a very significant issue in Northern Ireland.
1 in 5 adults in Northern Ireland have a mental health condition at any one time, meaning that the country has a 25% higher overall prevalence of mental illness than England.
Northern Ireland also has a significantly higher rate of depression than the rest of the UK, according to trends in prescription medication.
Children’s mental health in Northern Ireland
There is very little data on children’s mental health in Northern Ireland. The government is currently carrying out a prevalence study into children’s mental health, but this won’t be completed until later in 2020.
It has been estimated that around 45,000 (1 in 6) children and young people in Northern Ireland have a mental health problem at any one time, but this is just an estimate.
Without real data, it is difficult to measure, but there are some key indicators that can give an idea of the scale of the problem.
- Suicide rates: The rate of suicide in under 18s in Northern Ireland is significantly higher than the rest of the UK. The Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland reports that the average suicide rate in children aged 10 to 14 is 10 times higher than the rest of the UK.
- Prescribing trends: The number of children in Northern Ireland being prescribed medication for depression is increasing. Between 2015 and 2018 there was a 6% increase in anti-depressants being prescribed to children and young people.
- Self-harm rates: Data from 2012 to 2015 shows that rates of young people under 18 self-harming have been increasing each year.
- Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs): Over 26% of young adults in Northern Ireland have experienced at least one ACE. The Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland have recently developed a training programme to support professionals across children and families services, helping them to embed trauma-informed practice in their work.
Conflict in Northern Ireland & its effect on mental health
The legacy of the conflict in Northern Ireland, and the resulting high levels of economic deprivation, are known to be major contributory factors to the high levels of mental illness in the country.
Traumatic experiences, and exposure to violence, can lead to mental health issues. The Commission for Victims and Survivors estimates that over 200,000 adults in Northern Ireland have mental ill health as a result of the previous conflict in the country – many of whom will be now parents.
The impact of trans-generational trauma on children and families is widely accepted, and can be read more about in the 2015 Towards A Better Future report from the Commission for Victims and Survivors.