Suicide in Ireland is at “epidemic proportions”, a recent Traveller event heard.
Speaking at the launch of a new exhibition on Travellers’ experiences of suicide, Traveller and Love/Hate actor John Connors added that suicide is “like a plague and seems to be infectious [within the Traveller community]” and demanded that “mental health services need to work with us and Traveller groups to turn this around”.
Connors was one of a number of speakers at the launch of ‘Lived Lives: A Pavee Perspective’ , which ran from 6-12 November at the Pavee Point Roma and Traveller Centre in north inner city Dublin.
Traveller poet Helen Hutchinson from Nenagh, Co Tipperary also addressed the gathering with her poem ‘The Traveller Pain’, a tribute to the two brothers, two nephews and a niece she has lost through suicide.
The exhibition featured a series of artworks depicting the loss and pain experienced by those affected by suicide, created by Dr Seamus McGuinness of the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in collaboration with Prof Kevin Malone of UCD’s Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health.
“By working together in a creative manner, we aim to bridge the divide between awareness and action,” said Dr McGuinness of the experimental exhibition, which was put together following consultations with Traveller leaders and young people over the last year.
According to the 2010 All Ireland Traveller Health Study (AITHS), poor mental health among Travellers is shaped by discrimination, social exclusion, long-term illness, drug misuse, inadequate accommodation, low self-esteem, poor education, recent bereavement and low levels of trust with service providers.
Indeed, the AITHS found trust by Travellers in health professionals was only 41 per cent compared with 82 per cent among the general population.
What’s more, the rate of suicide among Travellers is almost seven times the national average – and suicide accounts for 11 per cent of all Traveller deaths, according to Pavee Point co-director Ronnie Fay.
“The State needs to face up to its responsibility in this,” he added. “Exclusion and marginalisation is contributing to Traveller suicide and is also a barrier to accessing mental health care services.”