Belfast Telegraph

Government’s eyes glaze over at mention of Traveller mental health, senator says

Senator Joan Freeman is a dedicated mental health campaigner.

Senator Joan Freeman is a dedicated mental health campaigner (PA)
Senator Joan Freeman is a dedicated mental health campaigner (PA)

By Aoife Moore, PA

The government’s “eyes glaze over” at the mention of Traveller mental health issues, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

The committee on the key issues affecting the Traveller community spent Tuesday’s session discussing mental health issues.

The Travelling community has long been advocating for increased access to mental health support as suicides in the community continue to rise amid what advocates call an environment of “indifference” from lawmakers.

We have to stop kicking the can down the road. Every time we kick it an inch someone else has died Senator Joan Freeman

Senator Joan Freeman, a dedicated mental health campaigner, spoke at length about the issue and the difficulties she has faced attempting to force the government to be more proactive about mental health in general.

“Ultimately all efforts will be for nothing if there are no services when someone goes looking,” she said.

“One Traveller family in Wexford lost eight people to suicide, and are constantly told to reach out and look for help and yet have been rewarded with inadequately staffed services.

“The mental health crisis in the traveller community, and let me be brutal about this, what I am afraid of, is that this report will add on to the 12,000 other reports we already have, unless someone does something different.

“I know I’m being cynical, but this committee may end up like my committee on mental health, promised we would continue, when we haven’t done diddly-squat for a year now, but where are we?

“We have to stop kicking the can down the road. Every time we kick it an inch someone else has died. If we don’t have our mental health, we have nothing.

“I’m making an appeal to the Taoiseach to have a Taoiseach’s nominee to the Senate from the Travelling community.

“The government’s eyes glaze when we talk about mental health in the Travelling community.”

Ms Freeman told the committee she had “gone off script” but that she was passionate about the issue.

She also suggested that mainstream mental health services are not always appropriate for Travellers: “We need to train people in the Travelling community on how to offer therapy and look after their own, as settled people have gained a reputation of being inaccessible and not compassionate, this is the only way we can start a small first step.”

The Traveller community say 30 people have died through suicide this year up to August.

Some 39 million euro has been allocated for mental health in 2020’s budget, however Minister with responsibility for Mental Health Jim Daly could not say on Tuesday how much would be allocated for Travellers, as it would be part of a national service plan which has not yet been decided.

Mr Daly went on to say he accepted that mental health is at crisis point in the Traveller community.

He accepted that the data being used to drive policy, The All Ireland Traveller Health Study, which was compiled in 2010, is out of date, but said his own knowledge of the issue is informed by speaking with Traveller advocates.

Kate Mitchell, from Mental Health Reform, told the committee that social exclusion and discrimination add to mental health difficulties and lack of culturally sensitive mental health services means needs are not being met.

“Not withstanding high rates of mental health and suicide, Travellers feel they are being ignored, with a lack of engagement with the community and where they are voiced, are often falling on deaf ears,” Ms Mitchell said.

Under human rights law, Ireland is expected to provide culturally sensitive services, however to date there has been a severe lack of implementation, she added.

PA

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