People who suffered directly during the Troubles may pass on their trauma and trauma-related illnesses to their children, an Ulster University academic has said.
Professor of mental health sciences Siobhan O'Neill will give a talk on understanding the links between mental health, transgenerational trauma and peace-building at the Build Peace conference on October 30.
She is expected to say that understanding the effect of Troubles-related trauma, including transgenerational trauma, is vital for fostering peace-building.
According to Ulster University research, at least half of the mental health difficulties in Northern Ireland appear to be directly related to the Troubles.
However, transgenerational trauma, where the negative mental health impacts of a traumatic event, such as PTSD, can be passed from a parent to their child even if the child never experienced a traumatic event, are less well understood.
These effects can be transmitted through the impact of trauma on how parents bond with their children, and parenting behaviour. Some evidence suggests a parent's trauma can even affect the genes passed on to their children, impacting on their child's biological stress response.
Professor O'Neill said "39% of the population experienced some sort of traumatic event during the conflict" and research has demonstrated the magnitude of the mental health needs of the population.
"However, progress on meeting those needs and providing the evidence-based treatments for complex trauma-related illnesses has been slow," she said.
"There are increasing concerns about the intergenerational transmission of trauma and mental illness and more needs to be done to mitigate against the effects of this in Northern Ireland. This means providing resilience and mental health programmes in schools.
"Evidence-based treatments needed for complex trauma-related illnesses need to be provided for those who have suffered directly as a result of the conflict, but their families also need access to support and treatment where appropriate.
"Such treatments can help individuals make meaning from their experiences, which not only reduces their suffering, but allows them to place the experience in context and help to foster recovery.
"These processes can promote peace-building, and create the environment for peace."