Health and care services

A mental health service for Travellers

With a higher than average suicide rate among Travellers a report has called for a more targeted approach from state agencies to tackle the problem.

Some of the young Travellers who took part in the series of workshops run by Pavee Point.

A recently published report by Pavee Point, a non-governmental organisation committed to the attainment of human rights for Irish Travellers and Roma has called for more to be done to tackle a higher than normal suicide rate among Irish Travellers.

The report, which was launched by the HSE’s National Director of Mental Health Services, Anne O’Connor references figures from the 2010 All-Ireland Traveller Health study which found that the suicide rate among Travellers is six times higher than in the general population and seven times higher amongst young Traveller men.

Travellers have been hit hard by austerity and a loss of social and economic support structures. The report states that typically the Traveller community does not engage in discussions around mental health and Traveller men in particular find engagement on this subject difficult. The research upon which this report is based engaged with young Travellers between 12 and 21. Travellers are typically considered young adults from the age of 14 and are expected to undertake more responsibility than that expected of similarly aged young person in the settled community.

The needs assessment was conducted through a series of workshops with young Travellers in different counties across Ireland. Data was gathered through 10 workshops held in three regions engaging with 88 young Travellers. A qualitative method was used to engage with these young people to gain information around their worries and concerns. A quantitative element was also present with measurements taken before and after each workshop which demonstrated positive responses to engaging on the topic of mental health.

The findings of the report show that mental health is a primary concern among young Travellers and that the support services in place at present are inadequate for their needs. Across Ireland the report highlights the lack of mental health services for young people and a near complete absence of Traveller specific mental health services with no programme implemented nationwide and young people unaware of services available to them.

The report was also critical of the approach the education system takes to mental health. It states that there is no uniform approach to positive mental health in the secondary school system in Ireland. With only 22 per cent of Travellers in Ireland educated to lower secondary school level, the report calls for more mental health support and information to be made available to students in early second level education.

Despite repeated recommendations from international bodies and domestic human rights groups, Ireland has never explicitly recognised Traveller ethnicity. Speaking at the launch of the report, Pavee Point’s Co-Director, Ronnie Fay said Travellers needed to be granted ethnic status to address the imbalance in health outcomes between Irish Travellers and the rest of the population.

“If ethnicity is recorded we can measure health outcomes for particular minority groups,” said Fay. “A whole range of United Nations bodies have told the State they need to have aggregated data on the basis of ethnicity. It is of benefit to give Travellers ethnicity because you can be warned of any issues and make targeted measures to mitigate against those issues.

“There is no Traveller health strategy or Traveller employment strategy. In the height of austerity there was 14 per cent unemployment and it was seen as a national catastrophe but at present there is 84 per cent Traveller unemployment and nothing is being done.”

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