New research reveals that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities have worse mental health outcomes than other groups
"Gypsy and Traveller communities are rarely considered in local policies and strategies and while we are delighted that we are recognised as an at-risk group in the newly published Suicide Prevention Strategy, it doesn’t go far enough and a lot more needs to be done to tackle entrenched inequality and serious disparities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.” Josie O Driscoll, chief executive officer, GATE Herts
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities have a suicide rate seven times higher than other communities in England, according to a new report.
Research commissioned by the NHS Race and Health Observatory, and led by the University of Worcester, found that mental health outcomes are particularly poor among the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. The report, entitled Inequalities in Mental Health Care for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities, found that shame, stigma and structural barriers contribute to the health inequalities experienced by these groups. This is worsened by a lack of granular data and tailored health services, as well as healthcare professionals who do not understand the communities’ needs or lifestyles.
Life expectancy for people in these communities is up to 10 years less than the national population average. Lack of access to digital services, low literacy levels, shortage of local and national data collection, and limited financial investment all “significantly hamper” access to local health services and prevent customised services, the report found.
Among these communities, there is widespread mistrust of public services, a structural barrier that needs to be removed, the report said. It added that waiting lists and digital forms of access do not fit with the needs of many Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities.
The report notes that many Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller people “have led traumatic lives and have often experienced discrimination and racism from a very early age.” It adds: “Intergenerational trauma was very evident throughout the research and trauma-informed approaches were seen as essential if mutual understanding between professional and community members are to be established.”
The report makes a number of recommendations. These include:
Despite the lack of national investment in national mental health care provision, there are many examples of locally organised services doing targeted work with these communities, the report found. Researchers visited effective services run in Hertfordshire, Leeds, Lincolnshire, York, Cambridgeshire and Ireland. Each site is an example of “novel, progressive initiatives which have broken down barriers for Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities in need of mental health support.”
Josie O Driscoll, chief executive officer of the community organisation GATE Herts, said that more than 80% of Gypsies and Travellers surveyed by the organisation in 2018 had been personally affected by suicide and had experienced multiple bereavements by suicide – on average, two to five family members. She added: “Despite all of this, Gypsy and Traveller communities are rarely considered in local policies and strategies and while we are delighted that we are recognised as an at-risk group in the newly published Suicide Prevention Strategy, it doesn’t go far enough and a lot more needs to be done to tackle entrenched inequality and serious disparities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.”
The research also identified lack of expertise and knowledge about Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller cultures as a significant deterrent to take-up of mainstream services. In 2022, the organisation Friends, Families and Travellers noted that out of 89 suicide prevention plans in England, only five mentioned Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities and only two listed any action plan strategy.
Jackie Bolton, co-founder of the Gypsy Roma Traveller Social Work Association, said that as a Traveller herself, she had seen “how poor mental health and suicide impacts on individuals and families. From the perspective of a social worker I can see it’s a systemic issue with services just not knowing how to help us. This report will change that.”
The finding that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities have a suicide rate seven times above the national average is shocking. While there has rightly been a greater policy focus in recent years on the mental health needs of ethnic minorities, the needs of people from the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities are often overlooked. It’s clear from this report that much more work needs to be done on addressing the particular structural inequalities faced by these communities.