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Traveller suicide rate 'six times higher than settled community' - conference

A national conference on Travellers and mental health hears that suicide accounts for 11 per cent of all deaths among Travellers.

Image: [File photo] Photocall Ireland

A NATIONAL CONFERENCE on mental health among the Travelling community has heard that Travellers are six times more likely to die from suicide than those in the settled community.

Thomas McCann, manager of the Traveller Counselling Service, said suicide accounted for 11 per cent of all deaths among the Travelling community – several times the same incidence rate elsewhere.

McCann called on the government to ringfence 5 per cent of its mental health budget so that its Vision for Change policy on mental health could be applied in a “culturally sensitive way”.

“The emotional and mental health needs of Travellers and other minority groups are not being met by existing services for a number of reasons,” McCann said, naming lack of engagement with traditional structures as one of the reasons this was the case.

“We must ensure that mental health workers have the competency to work with clients from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and provide the training and support for them to do this.”

McCann said his service had seen a surge demand for its services in the past few years, which he attributed to its culturally sensitive approach, and its work in putting support staff in direct contact with Traveller communities.

Petra Daly, director of the National Traveller Suicide Project, said there was a challenge to ensure that mental health services were appropriate for all users, whether they were of the Traveller, migrant or settled communities.

“People feel shame and stigma admitting they are struggling and when they do find the courage to look for help it can be extremely frustrating when services don’t understand their culture,” Daly said.

“In the Traveller community the statistics in relation to suicide are horrifying and there is an urgent need to begin to deal with and understand the reality of suicide and mental health issues and how they affect the Traveller community and other minority groups.”

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Gavan Reilly

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