One in five Ulster children 'has been near bomb blast'

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The Independent Online
A SURVEY among children aged 10 and 11 in Northern Ireland has found almost 20 per cent have been in or near a bomb explosion. Another 20 per cent said a friend or relative had been killed or injured in the troubles while 12 per cent considered their area 'not safe to live in'. Many had seen the murder of their father, schoolteacher or school-bus driver.

In a study, Trouble, Stress and Psychological Disorder in Northern Ireland, a University of Ulster psychologist, Dr Ed Cairns, and Ronnie Wilson report that children's experience of violence is worst in poorer districts.

In one area in 1990 more than 90 per cent of children aged between seven and eleven had watched a hijacked vehicle burn; more than 50 per cent had seen 'people shooting guns' and about 37 per cent had witnessed a bomb explosion.

The research also found symptoms of anti-social behaviour to be more common among young people in areas of high violence. It is pointed out, however, that socio- economic disadvantage also causes psychological problems. This makes it difficult to gauge how far violence is responsible for anti-social behaviour.

Conversations with children in Belfast led the researchers to surmise that repeated violence at first produces neurotic conduct. After a time this is 'displaced' by anti- social behaviour. It is possible, they conclude, that stress prevalent in areas of the most intense violence may induce the very psychological states which help continue the strife.

The study also highlights records for medical-legal psychiatric assessments of adults from 1979 until 1981 which show 23 per cent of 643 victims to suffer post- traumatic stress disorder - a mental condition first recorded after the Vietnam war.

Of these, 40 per cent had been casual witnesses; 13 per cent had been the target of an assassination attempt or explosion, 12 per cent had been held hostage or captive, and 14 per cent had been threatened or assaulted.

The study also reports a 'substantially higher' psychiatric admissions rate for adults in Northern Ireland than in England in 1990 and a slightly higher rate than Scotland. Neurotic disorder, in particular, was four times higher than in Scotland and England.