Travellers hold the key to finding solutions when it comes to their own mental health – a new Traveller art exhibition on Traveller mental health shows.

‘Unpacking Traveller Mental Health’ is an exhibition developed by Traveller Primary Health Care projects in the Eastern Region Traveller Health Unit to highlight the stresses and strains that make up the Traveller mental health crisis.

See report and images from exhibition launch.

Statistics show that Traveller suicide rate is 6 times higher when compared to the general population and accounts for approximately 11% of all Traveller deaths.

“Travellers have campaigned on mental health since the extent of the crisis was brought to light in the 2010 All Ireland Traveller Health study,” explains Pavee Point Mental Health Worker, Pa Reilly.

“There are unique factors that impact on our mental health – including for example the impact of bereavement as a trigger for suicide,” says Mr. Reilly, “This exhibition brings these factors to life for people and is an important awareness raising tool for service providers and policy makers.”

L to R, Mags Casey, Tipperary Rural Traveller Project; Geraldine McDonagh, Tallaght Travelller Community Development Project; Davey Oliver Joyce, Professional Boxer; Patrick Reilly, Mental Health Worker, Pavee. Point Traveller and Roma Centre, Grainne Meehan, Traveller Health Unit Eastern Region, Melissa Joyce and baby Grace at the launch of ‘Unpacking Traveller Mental Health’ art exhibition. Photo by Derek Speirs

The Traveller grub-box was traditionally used by Travellers to store food when moving from place to place and in this exhibition ten grub-boxes are filled with 3D representations of many of these factors.

The substance abuse box, for example is full of broken egg shells. “Walking on egg shells is how Travellers described the issue of substance abuse – a growing issue among a community with low education, high unemployment and poor living conditions,” says Mary Brigid Collins of the Pavee Point Traveller Primary Health Care Project.

“The Traveller women’s box uses heavy bricks to highlight the weight discrimination and racism has on Traveller women’s mental health. As Traveller women we experience multiple forms of discrimination-as women and as Travellers and we know that the suicide rate for Traveller women is 5 times higher the national average” she continues.

“We see these issues on a day to day basis,” explains Ms. Collins, “We know what people are going through and we know the type of help they need. That’s why our Health Projects are so important and that is why we want people to come to this exhibition and get a taste of what life is like from inside the head of a Traveller.

Missie Collins with Minister Jim Daly TD- at the launch of ‘Unpacking Traveller Mental Health’ art exhibition. Photo by Derek Speirs

“We need support for our work and we need 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. We need Traveller health inequalities to be prioritised within the Department of Health and HSE.”
The exhibition runs until 16 October.