Traveller Mental Health
Maintaining mental health can be a challenge for all members of Irish society, particularly in times of such economic hardship. But when this is combined with the experience of racism, exclusion and discrimination that the Traveller community has experienced, the challenge is greater.
The uptake of mainstream services by the Traveller community is historically low due to the lack of cultural awareness in service providers. This lack of cultural awareness often leaves Travellers feeling disillusioned and misunderstood. Shame and fear of both judgement and exposure are further inhibitors to service engagement within the community.
This background has important and far reaching implications for Traveller mental health. There is a close connection between social and physical stress on the one hand and psychological distress on the other. We lack good information on the level of psychological stress and mental ill-health in the Traveller community, but experts in the area believe that both are high, several used the term that there was ‘a high level of bottled up feelings.’ Case reports by Exchange House Service for Travellers in Dublin suggest high rates of mental illness that are not being addressed except through prescriptions for tranquilizers. In a project looking at domestic violence, it became apparent that Traveller men had high levels of suppressed anger about their situation, but had no one to talk to in order to seek help. Figures have also been quoted suggesting that up to 10% of residents of the Central Mental Hospital are Travellers, more than ten times their share of the population would suggest.
While the rate of suicide amongst Traveller women is higher than their settled counterparts, the rate of male Traveller suicide is an alarming 6.6 times higher than that of the settled male population There are many contributory factors to such high suicide rates including social change, the pervasive problem of drug abuse among marginalised Traveller men, economic pressures, accommodation issues, violence and the extreme levels of discrimination faced by this community. This level of suicide and self-harm among Travellers is a cause of much grief, loss and emotional pain for the immediate family, the extended family and the wider Traveller community.