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Friday, June 26, 1998 Published at 02:16 GMT 03:16 UK


Health

Suicides rise despite hopes of peace

Teenagers may lack confidence

Doctors are baffled by a sudden increase in suicides among young people in Northern Ireland.

Instead of sparking off a wave of optimism among young people, the recent peace settlement appears to have had the opposite effect.

Exactly how many people have killed themselves since the start of the year is unknown, but numbers are rising, and in particular there has been a cluster of suicides in socially deprived West Belfast where 10 young men have hanged themselves since Christmas.

Some people believe drugs are to blame, but the evidence is inconclusive.


[ image: Jackie McIlory: 'Youngsters may not be optimistic']
Jackie McIlory: 'Youngsters may not be optimistic'
Mental health social worker Jackie McIlroy said: "Some people believe it is something to do with the political climate. That now is a time of optimism in West Belfast, we are hoping that things are going to change, but young people perhaps don't feel that, that for them there is not much hope about and it just makes them feel worse."

Something to live for

A similar phenomenon was recorded after the Second World War when there was a rise in suicides throughout Britain.

Psychologists believe having a national cause gave people something to live for. It may be that the same factors are at work - on a smaller scale - in Belfast too.

Health and social agencies have reacted to the crisis by setting up support groups, including one class in raising self esteem.

Health professionals are trying to get parents and others to be more aware of the concerns of young people.

'Take young people seriously'

Psychiatrist Dr Finuala Leddy said: "I think that it is very important that young people who are thinking about harming themselves should be taken seriously if they mention that or communicate that in any way.

"Sometimes young people start writing stories or do artwork on the theme of suicide, or sometimes young people tell somebody they are thinking of harming themselves. It is very important to take that very seriously."

Young people are themselves getting involved. One local group, the Upper Springfield Development Trust, is training young people to counsel each other at special centres.


[ image: Ellen Cahill helps youngsters help themselves]
Ellen Cahill helps youngsters help themselves
Group member Ellen Cahill said: "When you are a child your most important support is your parents, but when you are a teenager your most important support is your peers. I think young people listen to other young people more than they listen to adults."

Loss of confidence

Dr Martin Breach, a locum GP who has worked at practices throughout Belfast, said the problem could be a combination of general factors and circumstances specific to the province.

"Suicide is a leading cause of death in young men not just in Northern Ireland, but across the whole of the UK,' he said.

"That could be due to the changing role of young men in society, due to their own expectations of life, or due to their relatively poor educational achievement in comparison to their female peers.

"Twenty years ago it was assumed young men were going to find employment, but now they may be viewing their future with much less confidence than they did."

Loss of identity

Dr Breach said the tightly defined nature of Irish communities could also be a factor.

"There are certain stresses in terms of the structure of society," he said. "Communities tend to be very patriarchal, the older man is very much the head of the household and they expect obedience. Young people are less conformist and more individualist, and they may find their communities do not really match their expectations."

Dr Breach said the changing political climate may also have produced uncertainty. "In the past green was green and orange was orange, but now there is an element of flexibility and compromise slipping into the situation. Some may think that is wonderful, but in vulnerable people that loss of certainty can be tied up with a loss of identity."



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