‘Dearth’ of research into institutional child abuse criticised

MORE research into the area of institutional childhood abuse and suicidal behaviour is needed and should be prioritised, a leading suicide researcher has said.

Dr Ella Arensman of the National Suicide Research Foundation, who along with co-researcher Martina O’Riordan, carried out a study on the topic, found that there is a “dearth” of research in the area, not just in this country but internationally.

The study, commissioned by the National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP) and published 18 months ago, does reveal that alcohol and drug abuse, along with social isolation, are main factors associated with suicidal behaviour among survivors of institutional child sex abuse.

And it reveals a range of other less frequently reported mental health difficulties for survivors, including inadequate coping skills, impulsive behaviour, depression and anti-climax following attendance at the Residential Institutions Redress Board.

According to the study, carried out in 2007, a number of survivors said that the experience of being abused in an institution had led to anxiety regarding the possibility of receiving nursing home care in later life.

This fear of what might happen to them as they grow older must be given appropriate consideration as a risk factor for suicide thoughts among survivors, the report said.

According to the researchers, this also indicated that long-term effects of being resident in an industrial school during childhood has yet to be fully explored.

Another study commissioned by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and included in the final report also highlights that within an Irish context no major studies of the effects of living in an institution in childhood on adult adjustment have been conducted.

International research literature, it says, indicates that it affects people in a wide range of areas, such as psychological disorders — notably anxiety disorders — depression, and alcohol and substance abuse, personality disorders and self-harming.

The Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) report on a nationally representative survey of more than 3,000 adults in 2002 confirmed that in Ireland, for a sizeable minority of survivors, child sexual abuse led to significant mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

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