‘Urgent Interventions’ Needed on Traveller Mental Health

‘Travellers, whose suicide rates continue to be unacceptably high, deserve an urgent intervention from the State’ – the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care said in its interim report last month. (Photos by Derek Speirs)

Today at Pavee Point we hosted Minister for Mental Health and Older People, Jim Daly, TD and explained to him what interventions we feel are necessary to impact positively on Traveller mental health.

Minister for Mental Health and Older People, Jim Daly, TD talks with Mental Health Worker, Patrick Reilly.

As our Mental Health Worker said: “Action is what’s needed now to halt the decimation of our community through suicide.”

Research shows the stark inequalities for Travellers in relation to access, participation and outcomes in mental health services:

  • Suicide rate among Traveller men is 6.6 times higher

  • Suicide accounts for a staggering 11% of all Traveller deaths

  • Life expectancy for Traveller men is 15.1 years and for Traveller women 11.5 years less

  • Infant mortality is 3.6 times higher

A Traveller Voice at National Level

Our message to Minister Daly today was that Travellers need a voice at a high level in the Dept of Health to ensure that a proactive collaborative approach can be adopted to ensure an effective service for Travellers within the mainstream.

We asked specifically for the recovening of the National Traveller Health Advisory Committee (THAC) at the Dept. of Health which has not been convened since October 2012.  We welcomed Minister Harris’ commitment to re-establishing the THAC early this year, however, we note the lack of progress and/or confirmed date for its re-establishment. In the meantime Traveller inequalities have grown as was  shown by a recent ESRI report.

Dedicated Mental Health Budget

We also said there needs to be a dedicated Traveller Mental Health Budget.  Resources allocated to mental health come out of existing budgets of Traveller Health Units and Primary Health Care Projects which are under resourced.  In fact since 2008 not one additional penny has been made available to address Traveller health inequalities despite the evidence of a mental health crisis provided in the All Ireland Traveller Health Study, 2010.

Minister Daly receives a copy of the All Ireland Traveller Health Study from Nancy Collins, Primary Health Care Worker with Maggie McDonnell and Mary Brigid Collins.

Protect Primary Health Care for Travellers

Minister Daly recently spoke about the need for tackling mental health at Primary Care level and we have called for the Traveller Health Infrastucture that exists – regional Traveller Health Units and local Primary Health Care for Travellers Projects – to be protected.

Ethnic Equality Data

We also called for a universal question on ethnic group to be included in all primary mental health services.  A question on ethnic group – as in the Census – will provide evidence to inform mental health policy and contribute to tackling inequalites for all in the health system.