The launch of ‘Unpacking Traveller Mental Health’ art exhibition was an inspiring event for World Mental Health Day.

Through the Traveller Health Unit (THU) in the Eastern Region, ten Traveller Primary Health Care Projects drew on their experience working within the Traveller community to create 10 grub boxes packed with the stresses and strains that impact on Traveller mental health. 

The Eastern Traveller Health Unit is one of the largest in the country stretching all the way from Kildare, Wicklow and Dublin. And through the 9 Traveller Primary Health Care Projects (PHCPs), it works with over 2,000 Traveller families. That’s more than a quarter of the entire Traveller population in Ireland.

Value of Traveller Health Units

As Mental Health Worker, Pa Reilly explained:

“The work here today really shows the value of Traveller Health Units and the need for them to be strengthened and enhanced.

“The THU succeeded in getting funding through the Dormant Accounts Fund to employ dedicated mental health workers and we believe all Traveller PHCPs should be given funding to address our mental health needs in a meaningful and strategic manner.

Pa Reilly, Mental Health Worker, Pavee Point

“Our mental health is too important to be left to mental health professionals alone.”

Pa Reilly outlined the extent of the mental health crisis in the Traveller community and the need for dedicated mental health workers within the Traveller community.

“This can only really happen with a proper Traveller Health Action Plan that is long-term, focused and resourced,” he said. “We need Traveller health inequalities to be prioritised within the Department of Health and HSE.”

One in Ten Travellers Die by Suicide

Pa Reilly outlined the extent of the mental health crisis in the Traveller community.

“This can only really be tackled with a proper Traveller Health Action Plan that is long-term, focused and resourced,” he said. “We need Traveller health inequalities to be prioritised within the Department of Health and HSE.”

More Goverment Action Needed

Mags Casey Co Ordinator of the Tipperary Traveller Rural Project and Traveller Mental Health Network spoke movingly about the lack of government action. She called for the causes of poor mental health to be tackled. ” Stop trying to fix Travellers and instead fix what’s hurting Travellers, ” she said.

Mags Casey speaking at the launch of ‘Unpacking Traveller Mental Health’.

Kate Mitchell from Mental Health Reform also named social exlcusion and discrimination as major factors impacting on Traveller mental health.

Professional Boxer Davey Oliver Joyce spoke of his own experience of discrimination in education and how he overcame that to compete in the Olympics and get a qualification. He encouraged everyone to ask for help if going through a difficult time.

Davey Oliver Joyce

Minister says Increasing Awareness

Minister for Mental Health, Jim Daly, TD also acknowledged that Traveller mental health is in crisis but there is increasing awareness and desire to address this crisis.

He said he would embed a Traveller culturally sensitive approach in the soon-to-be launched mental health signposting helpline.

10 Grub Boxes

“Positive mental health was manifested in the Traveller camp and campfire,” explained Winnie McDonnell of St. Margaret’s Traveller Community Association.

Winnie McDonnell from St Margaret’s Traveller Association Ballymun and the older Traveller grub box.

The weight of discrimination and marginalisation was shown by the weight of bricks weighing down on a woman who is trying to sleep in The Traveller women’s grub box created by Southside Traveller Action Group.

Traveller women grub box.

“This is just one bay and it’s totally overcrowded with trailers,” explains Michael Collins about the Traveller men’s grub box,

The stark image of the broken egg shells represents the feelings you might have going through every aspect of your life if you live with an addiction and was created by Balbriggan Traveller Group.

Aisling O’ Connor and Anne Marie Sweeney with the Substance Misuse grub box.

The young Traveller’s grub box was created by a group of women from TravAct in Coolock, North Dublin who represented the feeling of being watched because of their Traveller identity by showing eyes peering out of the darkness.

Younger Traveller grub box.

One side of the LGBTQ grub box explores the struggles and barriers to happiness in dark colours with bright colours representing shows a smooth path that is welcoming, loving and accepting. It was created by Clondalkin Traveller PHC.

LGBTQ grub box

Disability within the Traveller community is doubly difficult if you are living in poor conditions and wheelchair mobility can be a real issue. Also the bureaucracy in getting help can be hellish. This box was created by Kildare Traveller Action Group.

Traveller disability grub box.

The Social Determinants box shows the impact of low education, high unemployment and poor living conditions on Traveller life expectancy.

The perinatal grub box shows an ingenious baby bump with a protective hand that attempts to protect from fears, lack of information and poor living conditions and was made by Wicklow Traveller PHC

Perinatal grub box.

The positive mental health box was created by Tallaght Traveller PHC and the sun represents nature and positivity and is what Travellers and Traveller groups are working so hard to achieve.

Positive mental health grub box. with creators from Tallaght PHC.