Derry mental health expert Siobhan O’Neill welcomes inclusion of psychological injuries in conflict victim compensation framework

Professor Siobhan O'Neill Professor of Mental Health Sciences at the University of Ulster's Psychology Research Institute. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 16.4.14
Professor Siobhan O'Neill Professor of Mental Health Sciences at the University of Ulster's Psychology Research Institute. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 16.4.14

A Derry mental health lecturer has welcomed the inclusion of psychological injuries in a proposed payment scheme for victims of the recent conflict.

Siobhan O’Neill, Professor of Mental Health Sciences at Magee, suggested the number of people living with deep psychological trauma as a result of the violence was likely higher than reported.

The psychology scholar made the observations in response to a Northern Ireland Office consultation on a Troubles-related Victims Payment Scheme that closed this week.

She commended the inclusion of psychological injuries within the legal framework for the scheme. But she said the number of people who have self-identified as suffering from mental trauma represented the tip of an iceberg.

“Many of those with mental illness will not have disclosed their symptoms or sought help, as evidenced by the NI Study of Health and Stress.

“This is because avoidance is a feature of trauma-related mental illness and also because of the nature of the conflict and the climate of fear at the time. Nonetheless, psychological injuries resulting from the Troubles will have impacted individuals’ abilities to accrue an occupational pension and therefore it is appropriate that this category is included,” she stated.

Professor O’Neill agreed compensation awards should be scaled according to the severity of injuries.

But she added: “The allocation of a specific price to a psychological or physical injury may cause distress if it is felt that it fails to take into consideration the extent of the impact on the person’s life.

“Again, steps should be taken to ensure that victims are fully aware of the limitations of the scheme in this regard, and that the scheme is managed by trained staff, who themselves receive adequate support to process the information that they are exposed to.”

The Secretary of State for the North must bring forward legislation for a scheme by January 31, 2020, with a view to it becoming effective from May 31, 2020.