Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 8 October 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee On Key Issues Affecting The Traveller Community
Traveller Mental Health: Discussion (Resumed)
I thank the witnesses for their presentations. There is a lot in them, which is always hard to process. It is a tough topic. I heard the statistics on the prevalence of suicide in a community which is much smaller than Tallaght, where I live, and has a population of 120,000. The impact of suicide on the community of west Tallaght is traumatic and the adverse childhood experiences stuff is extremely important in that context. Suicide has been a part of my life since I was about 17 years of age. I have had to intervene many times, including at the point where suicide was attempted and in hospitalisation. Unfortunately, I have lost a lot of people to suicide. However, the incidence of suicide has been spread across my life. I cannot imagine how I would begin to process the intensity of so many lost lives within one close-knit family and community because I already struggle to process the issue on the much wider level of my experience.
On how we begin to address that, multidisciplinary approaches are necessary because everything is interlinked. However, we cannot wait until everything fits together neatly. Targeted approaches to mental health are needed, without ignoring housing, accommodation and the role of education. I would like to ask some very direct questions about how we begin to address that. Mr. McCann mentioned the establishment of the mental health steering group and the need for it to be resourced. Ms Kelly and Ms McDonagh also mentioned a national strategy in that regard. What can we do now on a practical level to make sure this happens? Travellers are one of the groups which are the hardest to reach because they are the most ostracised in our community. When we lose people in the settled community in west Tallaght, my response as a community worker and policymaker has been to try to create initiatives whereby we work with first responders to suicidal ideation, such as immediate and wider family members and friends. Do we need to do something similar to better equip the Traveller community to be able to be first responders and begin to understand the phenomenon of suicide? Can we better resource the Traveller community to be able to better protect itself in those situations or know what to do or how to identify suicidal ideation and language? I found that helpful in the work we have done.
We often feel that suicide is something we cannot understand, which is not true. Some people, such as Dr. Eoin Galavan, are doing very good work in this area. A young man from the Traveller community discussed his suicidal ideation with me and said the sense of uselessness he felt as an individual was a real driving factor in him not wanting to be alive. He said he felt useless, had nothing to contribute and that the world and his family would be better off without him. That is the message we are giving young Traveller men, especially when they want to go to work but are constantly denied the chance to do so. Even getting an interview is an obstacle to overcome.
We need to accept that people feeling they have nothing to provide, and that they need to remove themselves, is one of the reasons suicide exists. Can we create programmes that replicate some of the existing programmes around working with families and communities and to resource them in order to identify and respond to crisis situations? There can often be a lead-up to a crisis. How can we begin to identify this and move into a more preventive space?