Northern Ireland news

One in five in shadow of peace walls on anti-depressants

More than one in five adults living along Northern Ireland's peace walls are being prescribed anti-depressants. Picture by Stephen Wilson/Pacemaker

MORE than one in five adults living in the shadow of Northern Ireland's 'peace walls' are being prescribed anti-depressants.

A study by Queen's University found that even when other possible factors are taken into account, those living within sight of barriers are much more likely than the rest of the population to be taking medication.

There are currently around 80 peace walls at interface areas across the north, the majority of them in Belfast.

In the first study of its kind, researchers examined health data for more than 1.3 million people aged 18-74 across Northern Ireland.

They then looked those living in close proximity to any of 40 of the most prominent peace lines.

Lead researcher Dr Aideen Maguire, from the university's Centre for Public Health, said the results for people living very close - those who could see a security wall if they looked out a window or had one running through their garden - were startling.

"Mental health among those living at peace lines is a major concern, with more than one in five individuals living there receiving anti-depressant medication compared to one in eight in the rest of the population," Dr Maguire said.

"Even after taking into consideration other factors likely to affect mental health - including levels of deprivation, population density and crime - those living in peace line areas are 19 per cent more likely to be prescribed anti-depressant medication and 39 per cent more likely to be prescribed medication for anxiety, compared to those people living in other similar areas.

"The only difference was the physical environment, so while the walls were erected for safety and security of residents they have a huge impact on mental health.

"This could be down to ongoing fear of violence or Troubles legacy. However, we ruled out legacy as a major cause as the impact on the younger generation was similar to those who had lived through the Troubles."

Peace walls were first erected in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s and the Stormont Executive has set a target to remove all barriers by 2023.

However, a survey last year found that the number of people wanting their nearest peace line to remain in place has risen in recent years.

Thirty per cent of those surveyed wanted walls to remain, compared to 22 per cent in 2012. Almost half wanted them taken down.

Dr Maguire said the latest study needs to be used by policy makers.

"If they are looking a starting point at tackling mental heath, well we're saying look, there's something going on here and resources need to be directed towards dealing with it.

"If these barriers were to come down in the future, the impact of their removal on mental health should also be examined carefully and taken into consideration."

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