Researchers have found high levels of suicidal behaviour and mental health problems among former residents of industrial schools and reformatories, writes Carl O'Brien , Social Affairs Correspondent
A study commissioned by the Health Service Executive's (HSE) National Office for Suicide Prevention found that abuse of alcohol and drugs, along with social isolation, were common among former residents.There is also evidence to suggest that sons and daughters of former residents are also suffering from mental health or emotional problems, such as difficulties bonding with their children. The findings are contained in research by Martina O'Riordan and Dr Ella Arensman of the National Suicide Research Foundation, based on interviews with 90 former residents.
The research is due to be officially launched at a conference at the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin this afternoon by Dr Helen Buckley, a co-investigator of the Ferns inquiry. Dr Arensman said former residents experienced a wide range of mental health difficulties including inadequate coping skills, impulsive behaviour, post- traumatic stress disorder and anti-climax following attendance at the redress board. She pointed out that despite the closure of the schools, Government inquiries into abuse at institutions and the work of the residential institutions redress board, the suffering of former residents appeared to be continuing.
"The experience of being abused in an institution has led to anxiety regarding the possibility of receiving nursing home care in later life," she said. This fear of what might happen to them as they grow older must be given appropriate consideration as a risk factor for suicide ideation among survivors. This also indicates that the long-term effects of being resident in an industrial school during childhood have yet to be fully explored and understood."
The report says that considering the wide range of mental health difficulties experienced by former residents, a multi-disciplinary treatment approach is required within the support services. This would include further collaboration with other mental health services and is in accordance with the Government's 10-year blueprint for developing mental health services.
Major sources of support identified by former residents included relationships with other people, children and access to education. Less frequently reported sources included support from survivor groups, having a job and receiving counselling. Dr Arensman said the findings should be further validated by further research directly involving people with a history of institutional child sexual abuse, as well as physical and emotional abuse and neglect. Other studies focusing on the consequences of child sexual abuse in general have revealed consistent evidence of links with adult suicidal behaviour.
"There is a lack of studies addressing the relationship between institutional child sexual abuse and suicidal behaviour and related mental health difficulties as well as protective factors," the report says.© 2007 The Irish Times