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Monday 22 January 2018

Traveller suicide rates soar at six-times the settled community numbers

Sarah Stack

Sarah Stack

THE SHAME and stigma of admitting a mental health problem is driving members of the travelling community to suicide, it has emerged.

Petra Daly, director of the National Traveller Suicide Project, revealed her office has been told about 12 traveller deaths by suicide so far this year.

Studies show suicide rates among the traveller community are six times higher than in the settled population, accounting for at least 11pc of all deaths.

Ms Daly said the statistics were horrifying.

"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," she said.

"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."

There are an estimated 30,000 travellers living in Ireland.

Ms Daly said providers and breadwinners in the community believe they cannot discuss their feelings in case it shows a weakness, while those forced into settled accommodation complain of feeling "boxed-in".

Discrimination and having their livelihoods curtailed during the recession are also factors, she added.

Provisional figures show there were 486 registered deaths by suicide across Ireland's population last year, down from 547 from 2009.

The Traveller Counselling Service called on the Government to ringfence 5pc of the mental health budget to ensure measures to tackle suicide are implemented in a culturally sensitive way.

Thomas McCann, service manager, said there is a real need to address the lack of culturally appropriate counselling services in Ireland.

"The emotional and mental health needs of travellers and other minority groups are not being met by existing services for a number of reasons, including lack of engagement by travellers with the established infrastructure and isolation of the community," he said.

"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."

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