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Research shows importance of focus on mental wellbeing of Traveller community

 Four people sitting and six people standing in front of a green HSE backdrop, all holding the same research booklet.

New research, from a study launched recently, highlights the importance of engaging with members of the Traveller community, using a partnership approach, in order to create a mental health service provision that fits the needs of this community.

In October, the HSE national network of Mental Health Service Coordinators for Travellers, in collaboration with the Health Promotion Research Centre in University of Galway, launched a research study ‘Traveller Mental Wellness Continuum: A qualitative peer research study of Travellers’ views’. The study was funded by the HSE National Office of Suicide Prevention and the HSE Mental Health Engagement and Recovery National Office.

The research explores the views of Travellers on the range of improvements needed to promote mental wellbeing and reduce suicide. Seventeen Traveller peer researchers were employed to collect data in ten counties through a number of group discussions and individual interviews. Three of the researchers, Ellen McDonagh, Missy (Christine) O’Leary and Mary Helen Connors spoke at the launch event, with Julie Duke, a member of the project steering group and HSE Traveller Peer Support Worker, also addressing the gathering.

Peer researchers were involved in both the data collection and analysis stages of the study, working in collaboration with the core research team. Given their in-depth knowledge of their own communities, the peer researchers played a key-role in interpreting and analysing the data, facilitating a more culturally accurate interpretation of the 87 study participants’ perspectives. The peer researchers participated in two training days covering interviewing and group facilitation skills, positive mental health and practicalities in running workshops. 

Both Ellen and Missy spoke about how valuable the overall experience was in supporting them to help make things better for their community and to building their own skills and confidence. Ellen received a spontaneous round of applause during the launch event as she shared her recent professional successes, pointing to how the mental health of individuals and families is enhanced when Travellers have access to meaningful education, training and employment opportunities. Mary Helen spoke about the importance of Travellers talking about mental health and seeking appropriate support, and the importance of the health service responding appropriately. She also spoke of the importance of considering the needs of LGBTI+ Travellers who often experience prejudice and discrimination on two counts.

The research findings highlight the value of enabling good mental health and wellbeing for Travellers, through creating more supportive environments, including improving living conditions, education, training and employment opportunities, curbing discrimination, celebrating Traveller culture, and improving access to culturally appropriate services. The study findings provide an important basis for advancing the promotion of Traveller mental health and wellbeing as an urgent policy priority, including developing a continuum of Traveller-led services embracing mental health promotion, prevention, treatment and recovery.

Embedding an ethos of cultural safety and cultural humility and listening to Travellers’ ideas and suggestions help to improve services and to create a more inclusive environment that strives towards recovery.

Access the Traveller Mental Wellness Continuum report