Based on census material from 1926 to 1991, this study focuses on gender differences in occupancy rates in mental health beds in Northern Ireland. More specifically, using two sets of research literature — the relationships between war and mental health and gender and mental health respectively — it explores changing patterns in bed occupancy in terms of both gender and age differences within this society. The results suggest that, although men and women no longer vary in terms of their overall occupancy rates within mental health facilities in Northern Ireland, within their respective male and female sub-populations, however, some notable age-specific differences have now emerged. Since 1981, whereas increases in mental health bed occupancy among women have been exclusively confined to the old (65 years or older), among males, it is the very young, specifically men aged 15–24 years, who have demonstrated the most dramatic rise in bed usage. It is important to note, however, that these age-specific gender increases cannot be accounted for by demographic changes in the general population. The authors suggest that, at least as far as men are concerned, the increasing pattern of vulnerability among the young may be attributed to the impact of changing definitions of mental disorder rather than to the effect of political violence on mental health. It is to this group of individuals — the cohort of men born since the outbreak of civil unrest in Northern Ireland in 1969 — that future research should be directed.
- mental disorder