Troubles’ trauma can ‘take its toll’

'Troubles' trauma can kick in years later, say experts.
'Troubles' trauma can kick in years later, say experts.

Some people who had traumatic experiences 30 to 40 years ago during ‘the Troubles’ are affected by mental health conditions as they grow older, new research by Derry academics has revealed.

A new report by University of Ulster psychologists based in Derry and trauma treatment experts in Omagh concludes that acute manifestation of symptoms for many mental health conditions often only appears many years later.

The study - entitled “Ageing, Health and Conflict” - examined the experience and impact of ‘Troubles-related’ trauma among individuals aged 45 and older.

It is the latest in a series undertaken by a partnership of the Bamford Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing, based at the Derry campus of the University of Ulster, and the Northern Ireland Centre for Trauma & Transformation Trust.

The research shows that an individual who has experienced a ‘conflict-related’ traumatic event is three times more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and or alcohol abuse than someone who has not had a trauma.

Nearly 50% of those who had experienced a conflict-related trauma had shown evidence of at least one treatable mental health condition by the time of the research interview.

As well as a strong association between traumatic events and mental health, the study found that specifically conflict-related traumatic events had a stronger effect across most mental health conditions.

People who experienced traumatic events, either conflict or non-conflict related, were more likely to have a range of chronic physical health problems such as arthritis/rheumatism, respiratory conditions and ulcers.

Where individuals had experienced traumatic events, many of them had gone to see health professionals in relation to emotional problems (67%).

Professor Brendan Bunting, Professor of Psychology at Magee, said: “These results indicate the potentially damaging role of traumatic events in the later development of different mental health conditions.

“Not all traumatic events are equal, some appear more devastating than others, and conflict related trauma appears to be among the more serious events. This link between trauma and mental health requires acknowledgment by both the sufferer and the therapist.”

Professor Bob Stout, of the Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland (CARDI), praised the report’s focus on the needs of older people, saying it laid the groundwork for improved services.