Northern Ireland

Mental health

Graphs on this page:

Supporting information:

Key points

  • People who are working are at much lower risk of mental illness than those who are either unemployed or long-term sick or disabled, with the proportions assessed as being at high risk being 10-20% for those who working, around 30% for those who are unemployed and 50% for those who are long-term sick or disabled.
  • For each work status, the proportion of women assessed as being at high risk is somewhat higher than that for men.
  • Research suggests a connection between the conflict and the risk of mental ill-health within Northern Ireland: the greater the extent to which someone’s area or life is affected by it, the greater the likelihood that they have poorer mental health. 1  How far the conflict explains the overall levels of mental ill-health in Northern Ireland is less clear. 2
  • Among those who chose to answer questions about their experience of the conflict, 7% indicated that they themselves had been injured during it, while a further 36% indicated that a close relative or friend had either been injured or killed.  Putting these two figures together implies that in the early years of this decade, around half a million people had been affected by the conflict in this way.

Definitions and data sources

The first graph shows the proportion of working-age adults who are classified as being at high risk of developing a mental illness, with the data shown separately for three groups of people: currently employed, currently unemployed, and long-term sick or disabled.  Data for other work economic statuses. e.g. retired, family care and students, is not shown.  In each case, the data is also shown separately for men and women.

The risk of developing a mental illness is assessed by asking informants a number of questions about general levels of happiness, depression, anxiety and sleep disturbance over the previous four weeks, which are designed to detect possible psychiatric morbidity.  A score is constructed from the responses, and the figures published show those with a score of 4 or more.  This is referred to as a ‘high GHQ12 score’.

The data source for the first graph is the British Household Panel Survey.  To its improve statistical reliability, the data is the average for the latest five years.

The second graph shows the proportion of adults who self-reported that they were either personally injured during the Troubles or had a close friend or relative killed or injured.

The data source for the second graph is a once-off survey entitled Poverty and Social Exclusion in Northern Ireland, 2002/03 (the dataset for which is no longer publicly available).

Overall adequacy of the indicator: medium.  The graphs do not measure mental ill-health directly.

External links

See the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety’s site on health inequalities.


1. See for example, O’Reilly, D. and Stevenson, M., 2003. Mental health in Northern Ireland: have ‘The Troubles’ made it worse? Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health Vol. 57, pp. 488-492.  See also the 2001 Health and Well-Being Survey which suggested that people who said they have been affected a lot by the troubles were almost twice as likely to show signs of a possible mental health problem (34%) as those who had not been affected much (18%).
2. See for example Curran, P. and Miller, P. 2001. Psychiatric implications of chronic civilian strife or war: Northern Ireland, Advances in Psychiatric Treatment vol 7, pp. 73-80 who note that just 6% of referrals and admissions to the general NHS psychiatric practice of the Mater Infirmorum Hospital (serving North and West Belfast) had as their precipitants any violence-related issues.