Ulster 'driven to tranquillisers by lingering war psychology'

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The Independent Online

A mental health report has confirmed Northern Ireland's reputation as an area with a particularly high use of anti-depressants and tranquillisers.

A mental health report has confirmed Northern Ireland's reputation as an area with a particularly high use of anti-depressants and tranquillisers.

The study, by the mental health charity Threshold, also concluded that many of those traumatised during the Troubles feel inhibited about talking about their experiences.

The report says use of anti-depressants in Northern Ireland is 37 per cent greater than the rest of the UK and there are 75 per cent more prescriptions for tranquillisers.

Northern Ireland has long been regarded as an area with a high level of consumption of tranquillisers and other drugs.

Consumption of illegal hard drugs is possibly lower than in other cities in the UK and Dublin, not least because the IRA occasionally kills alleged drug dealers. But prominent figures in some of the main loyalist organisations have recently started dealing in drugs on a large scale.

In parts of Belfast, tranquillisers are swapped as casually as cigarettes. Last year a GP in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast said he had to provide primary schoolchildren with potentially addictive drugs because no other treatment was available.

This arose out of the protracted and bitter dispute at Holy Cross primary school, where loyalists protested against Catholic girls attending school in a Protestant area.

Some of the children who ran a daily gauntlet to get to school had symptoms which included bed-wetting, nightmares and flashbacks. Dr Michael Tan, a GP, said children aged four or five were given mild sedatives but older children needed to take stronger tranquillisers.

Dr Raman Kapur, a clinical psychologist and director of Threshold, said the attitude of the Seventies that "loose talk costs lives" still predominated.

He added: "What we are seeing now is that people still do not feel safe. We may have a political peace process but on the ground there is still a war psychology. People live in fear for their lives."

Dr Kapur said having a safe place to talk was essential to begin the healing process. "We must provide safe havens with no riot zones for people to get help and deal with the human effects of the conflict.

"Any human being has got to be affected by 30 years of violence and exposure to death. We show the symptoms of a troubled mind. The only cure is talking freely about it."

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