Exposure to Trauma and Mental Health Service Engagement Among Adults Who Were Children of the Northern Ireland Troubles of 1968 to 1998

J Trauma Stress. 2017 Dec;30(6):593-601. doi: 10.1002/jts.22237. Epub 2017 Nov 27.


Northern Ireland is an appropriate region to examine the impact of traumatic experiences, owing to the many years of civil violence that have characterized its recent history, known colloquially as the "Troubles." Given the prominence of traumatic experiences among the aging population of Northern Ireland (NI), an evidence base is required to inform the planning and provision of effective mental health and other services. We analyzed the follow-up interviews (n = 225) of individuals from the Northern Ireland Study of Health and Stress (NISHS), aged 45 years and older, who experienced one or more conflict-related traumatic events. This study demonstrated that in NI traumatic events, such as being involved in an explosion, seeing someone killed or seriously injured, and living in a region of terror were most likely to be related to the Troubles. However, event types that we had not previously known to be related to conflict (such as the sudden death of a loved one), were also often related to the Troubles. Two-thirds of participants (67.1%) reported exposure to a Troubles-related event, and 57.8% reported being a civilian in a region of terror. The vast majority (85.9%) of participants who experienced a Troubles-related trauma never sought help, despite 59.1% meeting the criteria for a lifetime mental disorder. The reasons for not seeking help and sources of help are outlined. Policy makers must address Troubles-related mental health effects, in terms of how they carry forward into aging, and consider ways of improving engagement with services and treatments.

MeSH terms

  • Adult Survivors of Child Adverse Events / psychology*
  • Aged
  • Civil Disorders / psychology
  • Exposure to Violence / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Northern Ireland / epidemiology
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Qualitative Research
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy*
  • Terrorism / psychology