Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee On Key Issues Affecting The Traveller Community

Traveller Mental Health: Discussion (Resumed)

Ms Bridget Kelly:

I thank the Chair and members for inviting me to speak to the joint committee. I am the deputy co-ordinator of the Galway Traveller Movement. Our organisation made a submission to the committee and believed that addressing the mental health needs of the Traveller community should be a made a priority for the State. I am a proud Traveller woman and a mother of five children, and I want a society where my children’s rights as members of a minority group are protected and celebrated.

Members of my community experience higher levels of suicide than the settled population, and mental health is an issue that affects all Travellers in Ireland. Discrimination against Travellers, racism, unemployment, and social exclusion have a negative impact on the mental health of all Travellers - women, men, young people and children.

What are often called “mental health problems” are more commonly regarded as somehow located in the person, with an array of expert interventions geared towards producing changes in the individual. Yet, the kinds of mental pain, trauma and distress, and the sense of despair and hopelessness experienced by many members of my community, the LGBT+ community, and the asylum-seeking and refugee communities more often have their genesis in the social and political domain – in discrimination, exclusion, racism and the complex intersections of gender, ethnicity, class, disability, age, sexuality and so on.

The Galway Traveller Movement, GTM, is of the belief that mental health services provided to my community should be informed by a so-called just therapy analysis and understanding of the negative impact of structural inequality. Structural inequality is at the root cause of many of the severe mental health issues affecting so many members of my community. Just therapy is a reflective approach to therapy developed by workers at the Family Centre, Wellington, New Zealand. A fundamental feature of just therapy is the attention paid to the broad cultural, gender, social, spiritual, economic and psychological contexts underlying the problems experienced by those with whom therapists work. It expresses the New Zealand Family Centre philosophy and commitment to cultural, gender and socio-economic equity. This philosophy underlies the Family Centre's commitment to the eradication of racism, sexism and poverty. In all its therapy, field work activities and research, the Family Centre endeavours to expose the marginalisation of different sectors of the population and facilitate change to their advantage. This analysis and approach compliments a community work approach to improving my community's mental health and well-being.

As stated in A Vision for Change:

Community development models of mental health are particularly useful in the provision of mental health services to culturally diverse groups. Services need to reach out actively to communities to find alternative paths to channel support to individuals and families.

The following recommendations developed as part of a Healthy Ireland initiative come directly from the Traveller community in Galway city and county and the Galway Traveller Movement resilience project. First, mental health policy and services delivery to Travellers should be informed by an understanding of Traveller culture and the diversity that existswithin the Traveller community, including that of gender, sexuality and age. It must also be informed by an anti-racism and gender equality perspective, a just therapy approach, the knowledge and experience of Travellers themselves, and by international human rights standards.

Second, investment in mental health service provisionfor Travellers is urgently required to ensure that Travellers in need of services have access to a cohesive, transparent, accountable, prompt service that listens to the people who use it, with shorter waiting times. Third, appropriate holistic mental health supports should be provided at the levels of individual, family and community with greater flexibility about treatment. It is not acceptable to be just handed a prescription for medication by the general practitioner.

Fourth, the key role of Traveller organisationsin supporting positive mental health should be recognized, including their role in facilitating the voices of Travellers in social and political transformation. This involves the provision of support and resources for a community development approachto mental health based on meaningful collaborative relationships with community organisations and support groups.

Fifth, mandatory Traveller cultural competency trainingshould be part of the training of all mental health professionals, developed and delivered in collaboration with Traveller organisations using already established models of best practice adapted to an Irish Traveller context. Sixth, positive action measures should be introduced to support Travellers to pursue third level education and training to become mental health professionals.

Seventh, particular attention should be given to an exploration of the potential of equine therapy and Traveller horse ownership as mechanisms for Traveller mental health promotion. Eighth, an expansion of culturally appropriate counselling services for Travellers is required. Ninth, a social model of mental health should be developed, for example by developing peer support in services and community participation. Tenth, accident and emergency departments are inappropriate for people who are experiencing mental health difficulties. Dedicated spaces for admittance should be established.

Eleventh, a clear information and communications strategy, which explicitly targets the Traveller community, should be developed. It should focus on who mental health service providers are, what services are available and what referral pathways exist. Twelfth, mental health services must be planned by design and equality proofed to ensure quality outcomes for Travellers according to human rights standards. There should be an ethnic identifier to support equality outcomes for the Traveller community. This should be accompanied by ongoing review and evaluation as part of a community development approach and accountability for professionals in their practice of cultural competence.

Thirteenth, the stigma of mental health is still prevalent in society generally and among members of the Traveller community. Workshops and public conversations on mental health are required to facilitate understanding through a social, cultural and political lens. As personal stories told through this lens are powerful, they need to reach more professionals and members of the public. Fourteenth, a working group on Traveller mental health should be established to oversee and plan for the implementation of the recommendations and outcomes of the current consultation process.

Galway Traveller Movement, which was established in 1994, is an independent Traveller community development organisation for Galway city and county and is made up of Travellers and non-Travellers. Our work has always been rooted in an understanding of and respect for the distinct culture and ethnic identity of the Traveller community. Galway Traveller Movement's vision involves full equality for Travellers, the participation of Travellers in social, economic, political and cultural life and the broader enhancement of social justice and human rights. Our work is motivated and guided by the core values of social justice, equality, collectivity, participation and dignity. I thank the members of the committee for listening and invite them to be part of the solution to the crisis together.


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