In Northern Ireland, there has been a big increase in suicides since the early-nineties, before the first ceasefire in 1994, rising particularly throughout the period after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Many are concerned about the trend, which is often seen when peace comes to a country – whatever side people are on, the cohesiveness that being involved in conflict brings to communities is weakened post conflict. And the situation may actually be worse than people think. For 2004-08, there is now evidence to suggest that while people not getting medical help tend to kill themselves in periods when the weather is getting worse, people who are getting such help tend to kill themselves in times when the weather is getting better.
It certainly makes sense on the face of it that when the weather gets worse, people’s mood goes downhill. But when weather is getting better, why should some people’s mood get worse – especially if they are getting help? That seems to make no kind of sense – or maybe there is an explanation.
“It’s not the despair … I can stand the despair. It’s the hope” So John Cleese’s Mr Stimson in the film Clockwise assesses the peaks and troughs of his epic journey, and the evidence seems to suggest that he is not alone. If help has come, if the weather is getting better, or peace arrives, then hope begins to grow and that hope calls for change. Change is often difficult, it is sometimes painful and it nearly always means effort. People don’t cope well with change.
So what does this have to say to those who profess to follow Jesus Christ in Northern Ireland? Well, I suppose that there are two strands. Firstly and generally, the Christian message offers hope, and we need to be aware that this will impose strains that weren’t there before, people come to faith – though of course there will be resources as well! Secondly, in Northern Ireland specifically, the ceasefires certainly gave hope of something better, but has the peace actually been delivered? Do recent events on the streets of Belfast suggest that people in our communities feel that they are coping with change well? So, what are we doing about it?
Chris Morris is a retired statistician and has an MPhil in Reconciliation Studies.