The government must tackle the “silent killer” of higher suicide rates in the Traveller community and deliver on promises for a tailored mental health strategy.
That’s according to the National Traveller Mental Health Network, which has called on the government to take urgent action to address the mental health crisis facing Travellers.
While the network welcomed a commitment in the new programme for government to develop a mental health strategy for Travellers, it said the many “false dawns” of the past could not be repeated.
“Too many people have carried too many coffins. Too many families have buried too many brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, uncles, aunts, and fathers and mothers. The heartache and the devastation never ends for those left behind,” Mags Casey, chairperson of the National Traveller Mental Health Network, said.
“For the Traveller community, suicide is not an isolated event. Tragically, it has been allowed to become an ongoing dark part of our existence. It has become tragically clear that our deaths have meant little".
The call came as the network launched a document detailing the mental health crisis in the Traveller community, which has suicide rates six times that of the general population.
To address this, the network called on the government to commence a consultation process on a new strategy, to establish a mental health steering group to oversee the development and implementation of a strategy, to invest in specific services for the Traveller community, and to deliver the strategy in the next three to five years.
It also called for a "formal link" between the Traveller mental health steering group and the new implementation committee being set up to oversee the national mental health strategy,.
Launching the submission document, Senator Eileen Flynn, the first Traveller Senator to be appointed to the Oireachtas, said the “silent killer” of suicide needed to be addressed.
“Mental health is a silent killer in our community. One in every 11 deaths is caused by suicide. That’s seven times higher for Traveller men than the general population and six times higher for Traveller women than the general population,” Ms Flynn said.
Born and reared on a halting site in Dublin, Ms Flynn has seen the scale of mental health issues first hand.
“At the moment the level of mental health issues that I see all around me is very tough," she said.
“Travellers suffer more from mental health due to the level of oppression and rejection that is put upon us on a daily basis. I genuinely hope that the government won’t let down our community again that this won't be just a fake promise.
"It should not be acceptable and we do not want to lose another member of community due to suicide"— Irish Traveller Movement (@itmtrav) July 22, 2020
Senator Eileen Flynn @Love1solidarity speaking today at the launch of the National Traveller Mental Health submission and pin pic.twitter.com/7gWRRRJxs5
Mary Butler, minister for mental health, said the Covid-19 pandemic had prompted a “national conversation” about mental health and people should not be ashamed or afraid to talk about it. She acknowledged that accessing services presented problems for members of the Traveller community and she committed to work with Ms Flynn on addressing the issues raised.
The network also launched a pin to break the taboo around mental health in the Traveller community. Hugh Friel from the Donegal Traveller Project said the “symbolic token” would create opportunities for Travellers to talk about mental health issues.