‘Urgent need’ for Traveller mental health services with suicide rates six times the national average

Suicide rates among Travellers are six times the national average and mental health services urgently need to become more accessible to members of this community, according to the recommendations of a report.

As part of the research, Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre brought together 88 members of Traveller communities between the ages of 13 and 23 for a series of 10 workshops nationwide.

The groups were gathered to highlight how little has changed since a 2010 study revealed the suicide rate among Travellers as being six times higher than the suicide rate of the general population — seven times the national average in terms of Traveller men. Every workshop mentioned the word ‘discrimination’ when asked what it meant to be a Traveller.

Many participants identified discrimination in schools, when seeking employment, on the streets, and in the media. They told stories about being called ‘knacker’ and ‘pikey’ and how it made them feel sad and worthless.

Young Traveller women in three of the groups spoke about discrimination when booking wedding venues while seven groups brought up the topic of hiding their identity and making deliberate efforts to be “less of a Traveller” when attempting to enter restaurants and bars. All groups mentioned a similar experience of being turned away from bars.

Despite the constant pressure and stress of discrimination, the vast majority of participants could not list any mental health services in their area, while many referred to mental health in a negative way, indicating a ‘suffer in silence’ mentality.

The report concludes there is an ‘urgent need’ for Traveller-specific services and positive mental health mechanisms, particularly in early secondary education.

‘Urgent need’ for Traveller mental health services with suicide rates six times the national average

The data, compiled by Pavee Point, was launched yesterday by Dr Anne O’Connor, national director of the HSE’s Mental Health Division.

Dr O’Connor highlighted the role of 34 small primary health teams, staffed part-time by Travellers, in addressing the challenges faced by members of the Travelling community. She outlined the HSE’s plan to build on this resource and to continue to help Travellers access mainstream mental health services.

At the launch, health worker Michael Collins said he often has to make up to 20 calls to get assistance for Travellers experiencing mental anguish.

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