Tehmina Kazi, Traveller Visibility Group; Bridget O’Brien, Travellers of North Cork; Niamh Murphy, West Cork Travellers Centre; Ciara Ridge, MHS, HSE Cork/Kerry Community Healthcare; Nora Cash, Traveller Visibility Group; Denise Baker, Travellers of North Cork; and Eileen Burke, Traveller Visibility Group in Fitzgerald’s Park marking the launch of 2 animations designed to help Traveller families access mental health services. Photo: Michael O’Sullivan/OSM Photo

Animations to help Travellers

“It's no longer good enough that we have to bury children as young as 9 years old from suicide. We have devastated families and communities now that are no longer fractured – they're shattered.”

Those were the words of Traveller activist Mags Casey at the launch of 2 ground breaking animations created to help turn the tide on what has been described as an “epidemic” of suicides within the Traveller community.

The animations, which are designed to help Traveller families in accessing mental health services, were launched at an online event organised by the Cork/Kerry Traveller Youth Mental Health working group this week.

Ms Casey, who is the Co-ordinator of the Tipperary Traveller Rural Project, has lost a number of relatives to suicide in the past decade.

She said a crisis of burying young people has existed within the Traveller community for a long time and called for a serious commitment from the Government to address the problem at its source.

Ms Casey said there should be therapists across Ireland working with young Traveller people to support them and their families. Both animations, launched on Tuesday, feature Traveller mothers talking about the difficult journeys they undertook with their sons through primary and secondary school. In 1 of the animations, a mother describes how the primary school years were difficult as her son could be restless and disruptive in class: “I remember how in 6th class he was given a golden achievement award for doing well on a surfboard on an end of school trip.

“This was the first award he ever received in school.

“I think he was delighted on the inside but by then he had developed a hard skin for himself, and he threw his award in the bin.”

The animations advise parents to engage with various service providers, and also raise awareness with service providers around the challenges experienced by Travellers.

Also speaking at the event was Minister for Older People and Mental Health, Mary Butler TD who said a whole Government approach has been adopted: “I’d like to extend my condolences to the families on the recent deaths of their children to suspected suicide. Life is not easy for Travellers and there are many health and social inequalities. Mental health problems and suicide are disproportionately higher within this marginalised community. It is the Government’s intention to change these outcomes – it is our job.”

She said a National Traveller Health Action Plan is currently being finalised with publication expected over the summer. According to the most recent research carried out by the Department of Health over a decade ago, the suicide rate among Travellers is 6 times higher than the majority population, accounting for 11% of Traveller deaths.

Tehmina Kazi, Traveller Health Co-Ordinator, Traveller Visibility Group; Helen O’Sullivan, Traveller Community Mental Health Worker, Healthy Minds, HSE Cork/ Kerry Community Healthcare with her daughter Rena, and Niamh Murphy, Primary Health Care Coordinator, West Cork Travellers Centre, at the launch of the animations which will help support and inform Traveller families’ mental health by promoting intervention at earlier stages. Photo: Michael O’Sullivan/OSM PHOTO