Today, Friends Families and Travellers released the findings of research on the Government’s failure to address suicide inequalities within Gypsy and Traveller communities. Researchers found that only 5 out of 79 local suicide prevention plans in England mention Gypsy and Traveller communities, despite the fact that members of Gypsy and Traveller communities are 6-7 times more likely than the general population to die by suicide.
In January 2019, the Government published its first ever cross-government suicide prevention work plan. The national plan sets out that all local authorities should have multiagency suicide prevention plans in place and highlights the important role of local government in suicide prevention, given that approximately two thirds of people who take their own lives are not in contact with mental health services.
In an analysis of 79 local suicide prevention plans which represent 113 local areas to see whether the high suicide rate in Gypsy and Traveller communities has been identified and mitigated against on a local level, researchers from Friends, Families and Travellers found that only 5 plans mentioned Gypsy and Traveller communities and only 2 plans identified any activities to address suicide inequalities in Gypsy and Traveller communities.
Research conducted in England in 2007 found that members of Gypsy and Traveller communities are nearly three times more likely to be anxious than others, and just over twice as likely to be depressed, with women twice as likely as men to experience mental health problems. Further to this, researchers who conducted the All Ireland Traveller Health Study found suicide to be the cause of 11% of all deaths in the Irish Traveller community.
Despite this, the list of ‘high risk groups’ identified in the Government’s national suicide prevention plan does not mention Gypsy and Traveller communities, nor identify any activities to address suicide inequalities in Gypsy and Traveller communities.
Friends Families and Travellers will be writing to Directors of Public Health across the country highlighting the findings of the report, with guidance on addressing suicide inequalities in Gypsy and Traveller communities.
Speaking about the report, Sarah Sweeney, Policy and Communications Manager at Friends Families and Travellers said,
“Gypsy and Traveller communities in England are facing a mental health crisis and there is a real fear that it will only be worsened by the aftershocks of COVID-19. We’re calling on local authorities and mental health services to review the mental health support available to Gypsy and Traveller communities in their area and to make clear plans for how they will improve it.”
Speaking about mental health and suicide in Traveller communities, Josephine O’Driscoll, Chief Officer at GATE Herts said:
“Over the last 12 months I would say there’s been about 30 suicides that I know of.. mental health services need to be better, but for the Gypsy and Traveller community there needs to be much more done to improve engagement and access to services. More support. More signposting.. There also needs to be more awareness of the issues from within the community. It is still a taboo subject. It’s getting better though. People are starting to talk about it and more are getting involved now. They want to access support services, but there is nothing there and they don’t know how to start.”
Mark Penfold, from the One Call Away service which is run by members of Gypsy and Traveller communities for members of Gypsy and Traveller communities said:
“I think the Gypsy and Traveller communities need to realise how important it is to talk about mental health and know that it’s okay to not be okay. It is a very big problem in our community that it’s not talked about, and feelings aren’t talked about because of fear of stigma and what others will think. People choose to suffer in silence instead which only makes the situation worse. The other issue is that there is no trust between our community and the authorities. Especially with women who are frightened if they go for help their children might get taken off them.”
Help for suicidal thoughts
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Notes for Editor
About Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT)
Friends, Families and Travellers is a leading national charity that works on behalf of all Gypsies, Roma and Travellers regardless of ethnicity, culture or background.
Sami McLaren, Communications Officer
Tel: 07436 228910 Email: [email protected]
A research paper: Suicide Prevention in Gypsy and Traveller communities in England. View here.