Suicide accounts for 11% of all deaths within the Traveller community, according to the All Ireland Health Study 2010 and is six times higher than the national average. A variety of factors have led to these shocking statistics.
Traveller mental health has been hugely affected by racism, discrimination, poverty and social exclusion. For example, the Health Services Executive has acknowledged the negative impact that lack of appropriate accommodation for Travellers is having on Traveller health. Lack of Traveller accommodation has led to overcrowding on Traveller halting sites and group housing schemes.
Travellers on sites and in group housing schemes report isolation from the settled communities in which they live and an inability to access local services including mental health services, leisure facilities and employment due to discrimination.
Many Traveller families have been forced into private rented accommodation away from their family network – leading to further isolation and marginalisation.
The National Drugs Strategy acknowledges inequality and marginalisation as factors leading to a higher risk of problem drug use among Travellers. Early school leaving and poor education outcomes have also been identified as risks.
A staggering 84% unemployment rate among Travellers has also been identified as a risk factor in problem drug use. Travellers report this having led to ‘greater levels of depression, boredom, drug dealing, criminal activity and in some cases, poverty’ (Van Hout, 2009).
All these factors negatively impact on Traveller mental health. Travellers need to be better included in mental health services set up to tackle this tragic issue.
Pavee Point Health Project works to raise awareness of Traveller suicide within the Traveller community – and especially among Traveller men where the suicide rate is 7 times the national average. We have worked with Traveller men to assess their needs in terms of mental health services and we are lobbying the Health Service Executive to be more inclusive of Travellers.