Understanding the mental health landscape in Northern Ireland

Poor mental health is a very significant issue in Northern Ireland.

Understanding the mental health landscape 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

Until recently, there was very little data on children and young people’s mental health in Northern Ireland. In October 2020, the Health and Social Care Board in Northern Ireland released the results of their Youth Wellbeing Survey into children and young people’s mental health.

The survey found that rates of mental health disorders in Northern Ireland are broadly in line with other countries (like England), but that the rates for anxiety or mood disorders were slightly higher than other countries.

  • 1 in 8 young people met the criteria for a mood or anxiety disorder. Panic disorder was the most common diagnosis, followed by separation anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder
  • 1 in 8 children and young people in Northern Ireland have experienced emotional difficulties. In the age 5 to 10 age group, boys were more likely to have experienced emotional difficulties, while in the 16 to 19 age group, girls were more likely to experience emotional difficulties.

Adverse childhood experiences

An adverse childhood experience (ACE) is a traumatic event that occurs in a child or young person’s life before the age of 18. The Youth Wellbeing Survey found that close to one in two young people aged 11-19 years (47.5%) have experienced at least one ACE.

Parental separation, parental mental health problems, emotional neglect, domestic violence, and parental alcohol or substance use problems were the most commonly reported ACEs.

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 now be 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.


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