As a member of the Traveller community, suicide and mental health is a major factor for deaths within the Traveller community. Suicide is seven times higher than the national average in the Traveller community as of 2023.
Every year, suicide is the cause of 11% of all traveller deaths and 82% of Travellers have been directly affected by suicide. The release of ‘Research on Travellers’ views about mental health and suicide’ on 23 October of this year by the HSE, showcases that our community needs more action rather than talk at this stage.
The research discusses that the need of “curbing discrimination” is essential. Discrimination and racism that is projected upon a community has a direct consequence on the mental health of all members of the community.
Racism is an insidious health and social determinant that systematically dehumanises the lives of Travellers in Ireland. Racism systematically places a higher value in opportunities in the hands of a specific community and as a direct consequence, unfairly disbenefits another minority community such as the Traveller community.
Instead, there needs to be a ‘celebrating and reviving Traveller culture’ initiative and improve the access to culturally appropriate mental health care as it is said in the report. There also needs to be consequences for discrimination that does take place against these communities.
For the Traveller community, the stigma of opening up about mental health needs to be reduced. Conferences, workshops and training about mental health with Travellers need to happen on a regular basis.
I spoke at a conference on 10 October at Sligo Park Hotel with partnership with Sligo Traveller Group and the HSE and to be able to openly discuss mental health is and what is needed in the future. It was an empowering and eye-opening day and there was no stigma or shame about mental health.
Professor Margaret Barry from the Health Promotion Research Centre at the University of Galway commented that “the study findings provide an important basis for advancing the promotion of Traveller mental health and wellbeing as an urgent policy priority, including and developing a continuum of Traveller-led services embracing mental health promotion, prevention, treatment and recovery.”
In addition, some Travellers only feel safe talking about mental health or personal issues with another member of the community. Due to the lack of opportunities that travellers are given and the discrimination that is projected upon them in the workplace where Travellers hide their identity to secure a job. This cannot go on. In the future, Travellers need to hold jobs in the mental health and wellbeing sector so that Travellers can feel that they are in a safe environment and can express themselves.
Overall, the research is a step forward in the right direction but funding, accessibility and awareness around travellers’ mental health and wellbeing needs to happen now rather than later. The number of members from the Travellers community that have lost their lives in the last few years, even children, is outrageous.
Change is needed before more lives are lost. The need for Travellers to be looked at as equal citizens of this country, to be embraced and accepted by the rest of the country is the step that is needed. It must be remembered that one person’s actions do not represent an entire community and the painting of all Travellers with the one brush needs to change now.