Shock­ing num­ber of Trav­eller sui­cides

Bray People - - News Focus - Myles BUCHANAN

A NEW re­port re­port launched in­Wick­low last week re­veals that sui­cide amongst Trav­ellers was five times greater than that of the rest of the pop­u­la­tion over a seven year pe­riod from 2000 to 2006.

The re­port on sui­cide amongst mem­bers of the Trav­el­ling Com­mu­nity was launched on Tues­day at the Wick­low County Cam­pus in Rath­new and was funded by the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, Equal­ity and Law Re­form’s 2008 Trav­eller In­ter­a­gency and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions fund ad­min­is­tered by Pobal.

Mary Rose Walker, a so­cial worker with Wick­low County Coun­cil pre­pared the re­port and found that, ‘young Trav­ellers to­day have a lot more in com­mon with their set­tled peers than their par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion did, and to a cer­tain ex­tent, there has been a loss of cul­tural tra­di­tions as they take on the val­ues of main­stream so­ci­ety.

‘How­ever, pub­lic opin­ion of Trav­ellers as in­fe­rior and as a threat has not changed, and Trav­ellers face huge re­jec­tion from the set­tled pop­u­la­tion. Some tried to hide their Trav­eller iden­tity com­pletely.

The rate of sui­cide among Ir­ish Trav­ellers form 2000 to 2007 stood at 3.70 per 10,000, which was over three times that of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion. Dur­ing this time 74 Trav­ellers com­mit­ted sui­cide, with things peak­ing in 2005 when it was over five times the na­tional rate.

The re­port also found that sui­cide mainly occurred among the male Trav­eller pop­u­la­tion, with four times more men end­ing their lives than women. The male sui­cide rate stands at 91 per cent, over nine times that of the fe­male pop­u­la­tion.

52 per cent of sui­cide cases in the seven year pe­riod cov­ered were men who had never mar­ried, and an­other 15 per cent were sep­a­rated or wid­owed. Over 65 per cent of Trav­eller sui­cides were aged un­der 30, and the most at risk group are aged be­tween 25 and 29, ac­count­ing for 26 per cent of sui­cides.

Of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion in Ire­land, 46 per cent of all sui­cides oc­cur amongst those over 40, but the fig­ure for that age bracket amongst Trav­ellers stands at only 12 per cent.

80 per cent of the sui­cides cov­ered were from hang­ing, and 9 per cent by poi­son­ing. While ac­com­mo­da­tion doesn’t seem to play that sig­nif­i­cant a role, it’s still worth not­ing that the risk of sui­cide is greater with road­side fam­i­lies.

One fac­tor which is of con­cern to ser­vice providers is that 70 per cent of the sui­cides which occurred over the seven year pe­riod were first time at­tempts.

The vic­tims came from five dif­fer­ent sui­cide cat­e­gories. Trou­bled sui­cides in­volve back­grounds with so­cial prob­lems or al­co­hol abuse and vi­o­lent be­hav­iour. Peo­ple who also suf­fered par­tic­u­lar hard­ship and tragedy in a short space of time also fit into this cat­e­gory.

Mo­tive­less sui­cide is where there aren’t any ob­vi­ous signs of risk shown by the in­di­vid­ual.

Be­reave­ment sui­cides fol­low a very no­tice­able trend with Trav- ellers, and it is more com­mon than ex­pected for some­one to end their life fol­low­ing the death of some­body close. An­other start­ing statis­tic was that in cases 40 per cent of Trav­ellers who com­mit sui­cide fol­low­ing the death of some­one close to them did so af­ter that par­tic­u­lar loved one also com­mit­ted sui­cide.

Vi­o­lence sui­cides, whether the re­sult of do­mes­tic or feud­ing, was con­sid­ered a con­trib­u­tory fac­tor in 20 sui­cide cases. Eight occurred af­ter a vi­o­lent episode. Four were vic­tims, four were per­pe­tra­tors.

Ms Walker also notes that le­gal re­stric­tions and eco­nomic rea­sons have also made it more dif­fi­cult for Trav­ellers to travel and keep horses, and the loss of ac­tiv­i­ties which play such a ma­jor part of the Trav­eller cul­ture also has a knock-on ef­fect.

‘For those without work, who have lost the tra­di­tion of trav­el­ling and keep­ing horses, there is noth­ing to do. Par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble are sin­gle young men. To al­le­vi­ate bore­dom they may drink, take drugs, joy-ride and en­gage in other forms of an­ti­so­cial be­hav­iour. All of th­ese risk-tak­ing be­hav­iours are as­so­ci­ated with sui­cide.’

The re­port con­cludes that re­cent changes in so­ci­ety mean Trav­ellers have to cope with in­creased hos­til­ity at a time when they are los­ing their cul­tural iden­tity as well. This com­bined with fac­tors like al­co­hol or sub­stance abuse, eco­nomic in­se­cu­rity, vi­o­lence and de­pres­sion means that an im­me­di­ate cri­sis, such as death or mar­i­tal or re­la­tion­ship prob­lems, can of­ten act as a sui­cide trig­ger.

Mar­garet Malone, Wickow County Coun­cil; Ea­monn McCann, Wick­low Trav­ellers; Jim O’Brien, Bray Trav­ellers; and Mary Rose Walker, at the launch of the Re­port on Sui­cide Amongst Trav­ellers.

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