Fear that Troubles trauma could be passed on to next generation

Professor Siobhan O'Neill
Professor Siobhan O'Neill

A leading Northern Irish academic has raised concerns that people who were impacted mentally during the Troubles may pass their trauma-related illnesses on to their children.

Approximately 213,000 adults in Northern Ireland suffer from mental health difficulties, with Ulster University research showing at least half of those cases appear to be directly related to the Troubles.

Academic studies have found a link between Troubles-related trauma, mental illness and suicidal behaviour. The suicide rate in Northern Ireland is much higher than anywhere else in the UK and more people have taken their own lives after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement than were killed during the Troubles.

On October 30, as part of the Build Peace conference at Ulster University’s Belfast campus, Siobhan O’Neill, professor of Mental Health Sciences, is due to give a talk about the idea of transgenerational trauma – the process where the negative mental health impacts of a traumatic event can be passed from a parent to their child, even if that child has never experienced a traumatic event.

As well as the impact trauma can have on parenting behaviour there is also some evidence that it can affect the genes passed on to their children, impacting on their child’s biological stress response.

Professor O’Neill said: “There are increasing concerns about the intergenerational transmission of trauma and mental illness and more needs to be done to mitigate against the effects of this in Northern Ireland.”