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Those living near peace lines more likely to have poor mental health

People living close to peace lines in Northern Ireland have worse mental health than the rest of the population, according to researchers at Queen's University Belfast.

The view from Cave Hill

The study conducted by researchers at the Centre of Excellence for Public Health at Queen's, indicates that living in an area in close proximity to a segregation barrier, or peace line, increases a person’s likelihood of being on antidepressant medication by 19 per cent and on anxiolytic medication, which inhibits anxiety, by 39 percent.

The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, has been published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. It is the first study of its kind to examine the effect of residential religious segregation on individual mental health across the Northern Ireland population.

The study aimed to determine the risk of poor mental health based on proximity to segregation barriers. Looking at all 18-74 year olds across Northern Ireland, and then at those living in close proximity to any one of 40 peace lines, the research team analysed information from the Enhanced Prescribing Database for Northern Ireland to explore the prescribing of medication for depression or anxiety among the general population, compared with those living in physically segregated areas.

Lead researcher Dr Aideen Maguire from Queen’s Centre for Public Health, said: “Neighbourhood segregation is known to be a fundamental determinant of physical health, but its effects on mental health are less clear. Northern Ireland is unique as it contains physical manifestations of segregation, in the form of dividing walls separating two religious communities.

“Mental health among those living at peace lines is a major concern, with more than one in five individuals living there receiving antidepressant medication compared to one in eight in the rest of the population. After adjustment for other factors likely to affect mental health - including levels of deprivation, population density and crime - those living in peace line areas are 19 per cent more likely to be prescribed antidepressant medication and 39 per cent more likely to be prescribed medication for anxiety, compared to those people living in other similar areas with no segregation barriers.

“There are calls across Northern Ireland for peace lines to be removed. Our research indicates that the links between proximity to these barriers and poor mental health should be taken into consideration in discussions around this issue. If these barriers were to come down, the impact of their removal on mental health should be examined carefully.”

The research focussed on a two-year period from October 2008 to September 2010. For more information on Queen’s Centre of Excellence for Public Health visit


Media inquiries to Anne-Marie Clarke (Mon-Wed) or Michelle Cassidy (Thurs-Fri) at Queen’s University Communications Office on +44 (0)28 9097 5310 or

Notes to editors:
1. Dr Aideen Maguire is available for interviews.
2. The Enhanced Prescribing Database (EPD) is a centralised collation of all medications dispensed to the Northern Ireland population in community pharmacies.
3. The research paper ‘Residential Segregation, dividing walls and mental health: a population-based record linkage study’ was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.