Studies show suicide rates among the Traveller community are six times higher than in the settled population, accounting for at least 11% of all deaths
Mental health is a growing crisis within the Traveller community: these very high suicide rates, the high numbers of Travellers on anti-depressants and also in psychiatric units and the huge stigma and shame which still exists around issues of mental health within the community are all much higher than in the settled population. Experiences of social exclusion, discrimination, racism and negative stereotypes of the Traveller community over many generations had led to the current situation. As well as these visible signs, there are the invisible: the way such experience is internalised and leads to feelings of shame and worthlessness both individually and as a community as a whole. These experiences naturally lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, anger and aggression, substance misuse and self-harm and suicide behaviours.
In response to this situation, Sandra McDonagh, a Mental Health social worker is based at the Offaly Traveller Movement and oversees the Travelling to Wellbeing Programme. A new initiative between Offaly Traveller Movement, Exchange House Dublin, West Cork Travellers Development Project and Travellers of North Cork; the programme aims to reduce the stigma around mental health and suicide in the Traveller community, support individualised recovery plans/programmes with Travellers experiencing mental health issues, develop culturally appropriate recovery models using a community development approach and aims to address inequalities by working with Travellers and service providers to deepen mutual understanding, improve referral pathways and aid recovery.
Using a collaborative approach, the Travelling to well-being social worker, Primary Healthcare Programme for Travellers, Mens Health Programme and Youth Programme work together on an integrated mental health plan. Using a mental health seminar held by OTM in June 2013 as a starting point (see seminar report below), we are committed to finding effective, community driven ways in which to tackle this growing crisis within the Traveller community.
If you feel you could benefit from support around a mental health issue then please ring Sandra on 087 9866805 or 057 9325895