The Troubles. I’ve always hated that word. How can one tiny word act as a euphemism to disguise so much pain? For those who are unaware, the ‘Troubles’ refers to the excruciatingly bloody conflict that has spanned over many decades in Northern Ireland, taking the lives of many people-- nationalists, unionists and those who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. My parents grew up in the height of the Troubles, with it happening on their doorstep. The generation after my parents were known as ‘ceasefire babies’ (born after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998). My generation is meant to have made it out unscathed, living in times of peace and happiness. In reality, it is actually quite the opposite. Trauma has been passed down to us, whether we realize it or not. These years of conflict are either left unspoken or we are taught by our parents a biased history that completely demonizes the other side.
My generation is experiencing transgenerational trauma and for the most part, it’s being ignored.
According to Queen’s University Belfast’s study, whilst young people “may not have experienced conflict directly, they face a real-life threat of inheriting the psychological vulnerability of their parents.” Within Northern Ireland, there is a massive culture of silence surrounding the trauma related to the conflict that acts as an active transmitter of trauma. This is clearly shown in studies describing that Northern Ireland has the highest level of PTSD in Europe. At least two-thirds of the NI adult population has experienced a traumatic event in their life and as many as 77% of 15-16 year olds are experiencing community violence which has impacted their mental well-being resulting in depression and increased substance abuse.
However, the opposite of silence can be just as awful. A few months ago, I saw a picture of a young boy and his father at a loyalist gathering. Regardless of what political side you believe in, hatred is being taught and passed down. Whilst it may be harder to eradicate the extreme hatred taught to children, we can start to combat this culture of silence. Having an open conversation with family and friends about this troubled past can start to shift the mental health crisis. We live in a fragile time, in an unstable community and environment. It is no wonder young people feel as though they are being failed when there is failure after failure – governments, education, mental health, waiting lists and the list goes on. However, all hope is not lost. Young people are making progress and steps to speak up for themselves and promote inclusion, positivity, and awareness and whilst it is only the start, any change is better than none at all.
Writer: Niamh Docherty
Location: Northern Ireland