Discrimination key factor in Traveller suicides, study finds

Suicide rate among Travellers is six times higher than the general population

Relentless racism and discrimination is the “primary cause” of suicide among Travellers, a report says.

The rate of suicide in the Traveller community is six times higher than the general population.

More than two-thirds of Travellers have lost a loved one to suicide and almost 90 per cent are worried about suicide in their community, says the report which focuses on the rapidly growing Traveller community of south county Dublin.

Conducted by independent consultants S3 Solutions, which specialises in community and voluntary sector research, the study was commissioned by the Clondalkin Travellers Development Group, Tallaght Travellers Development Group and Ballyfermot Traveller Action Project.


Drawing on 112 responses to an online survey, semi-structured interviews with stakeholders, and five in-depth focus groups with 19 Travellers, researchers found around 85 per cent of respondents “knew someone with depression or who ‘suffers with their nerves’ “.

While drugs, alcohol, depression, poverty and financial pressures were identified as key causes of suicide, “there was consistent reference to daily experiences of discrimination that have an impact on mental health”.

“This discrimination can take many forms including being followed around shops by security guards or being refused entry to bars and restaurants. Not all racism is obvious or blatant and focus group participants commonly reflected on the consistent and subtle form of racism,” say the authors.

One participant said: “It’s not what people say at times, they are very careful. It’s a feeling that you get when you walk into a shop or a GP. It’s that look that you get that only Travellers would know. The conversation stops. The side looks at each other. Unless you have experienced it you wouldn’t know, but it happens everywhere I go.”

The report continues: “The impact of this daily experience of discrimination and racism is damaging to the morale of Travellers as they seek to navigate their daily lives.”

Asked if they were worried about suicide in the community, 89.7 per cent said they were. One mother commented: “When I am getting my kids ready for school my heart sinks. They are too young to know what is coming but sure enough it will hit them at some stage. I am hardened to it ... I can handle it because I am used to it, but my heart breaks for them every day. It sucks the spirit out of you, I go to bed drained and dreading the next day.”

Structural racism was identified as underpinning Travellers’ negative experiences in housing, employment, education and healthcare and engaging with gardaí – none of which could be addressed with counselling.

A participant commented: “Can you get me a nice home? Can you get me a job? Can you get people to stop treating us like dirt on their shoes? If the answer to these things is no, then nothing will change. A counselling session can’t solve these problems for Travellers. My brother took his own life, if I had the chance to talk him out of it, what hope could I offer him?”

The impact of suicide on communities included “panic” and fear there would be further suicides.

The report, which will be presented to Oireachtas members on Wednesday, makes nine recommendations, including that suicide prevention services engage in outreach with the Travellers; that stigma around mental health difficulties be addressed among Travellers, and, that a co-ordinated response plan is developed to support the Traveller community when a suicide occurs.

If you are affected by any issue in this article, please contact Pieta House on 1800-247247 or Samaritans can be contacted 24/7 on freephone 116 123 and email at jo@samaritans.ie

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times