Suicide rates in the North of Ireland have risen as community spirit in the face of the conflict has declined, according to new research published.
A University of Ulster report revealed that the common cause which united republican areas for more than 30 years may have kept people from taking their own lives.
The study, carried out alongside the Department of Psychiatry at the Mater Hospital Trust in Belfast, says the conflict strengthened social bonds within communities and “buffered” individuals from thoughts of suicide.
Since the peace process the threat has increased, with more than 150 people committing suicide in the Six Counties annually.
The research, is the first real attempt to unveil the reasons behind a surge in suicides in nationalist North and West Belfast in recent months and years. Controversially, however, the areas were described in the report as “ghettoes” which were united by a “perceived” sense of injustice.
Iain McGowan, Nursing lecturer at the University of Ulster and report author said: “Where you have areas of conflict the rate of suicide tends to drop during that period.
“When people come together to confront a general threat they tend to think less about themselves as individuals and more of the common cause, so suicidal thoughts may be pushed to the back of their minds.”
The issue has become such a concern that international experts gathered for a prevention conference in Belfast last week.
Mr McGowan examined the trends in suicide rates and conflict-related deaths in the North of Ireland from 1966 to 1999.
He found a direct relationship between the two -- when conflict increased, suicide fell and vice versa.
The lowest year for suicide deaths was 1972 when 47 people took their own lives. This coincided with the highest annual death toll in the conflict, when some 500 people were killed.
“We believe that civil unrest led to extreme polarisation of communities and the ghettoization of large parts of Northern Ireland, these ghettos becoming an oasis for the population resident in them, and ‘no-go’ areas for outsiders,” Mr McGowan added.
“In effect, polarised political civil unrest has the potential to foster and develop a sense of community in these pockets, drawn together by a common desire to survive together and a perceived sense of injustice.
“This appears to have buffered the population from the excesses and psychiatric morbidity possibly resultant from the troubles and protected them from suicide.”
Meanwhile, a west Belfast family are coming to terms with the tragic death of their teenage son -- the third member of the family to die by suicide.
The body of 17-year-old Patrick O’Brien was found in his Springfield Road home on Monday evening.
His family say he suffered from mental health problems and had sought help but had had to wait for six weeks for an appointment with a counsellor.
The family have called for more immediate help for young people at risk of suicide.
Deirdre O’Brien said the help her grandson needed had not been readily available.
“They say if you go and ask for help it is there. It wasn’t there,” she said.
“If a child is going to ask for help it should be there immediately.”
She said Patrick had been referred for help in May but did not receive a counselling appointment until mid-July after being put on a waiting list.
“He used to say to me ‘granny, my head is melting’. That’s the way he used to talk,” she said.
“You look at the statistics here and there is not a week goes by without a death.”