Speech by Mr. Tim O’Malley T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children at the launch of the research report ‘Moving beyond Coping’ – An insight into the experiences and needs of Travellers in dealing with the experience of suicide

I was delighted to accept the invitation fromTallaght Travellers Youth Service to launch this research report ‘Moving beyond Coping’ – An insight into the experiences and needs of Travellers in dealing with the experience of suicide.I welcome the opportunity to acknowledge and recognise the importance and value of the work of the Travellers Youth Servicein Tallaght over the past 20 years.

Tallaght Travellers Youth Service, which is a special project of Catholic Youth Care,commissioned and engaged Nexus (Irl) to carry out the research. A collaborative approach was used in order to:

  • Study the experiences of Travellers in Tallaght in dealing with the experience of suicide, attempted suicide and crisis situations in their community as well as,
  • To assess the needs of this community in relation to current and future supports.

This research identifies the need to address Traveller mental health issues and depression in particular and it recognises the role of alcohol in suicide. It highlights the role education plays in assisting young Travellers to avail of equal opportunities in life. The availability of this research data is a welcome resource for organisations working with Travellers in the area.It will assist them inmakingmore informed decisions to address issues both on their own behalf andin partnership with the relevant service providers and agencies.

I would like to pay tribute to all who were involved in and supported this research project; including the fifty-two members of the Traveller community who participated in the research interviews, the research team, the steering group, representatives from relevant statutory, community and voluntary organisations who were also interviewed in the course of the research.

A conferenceof this nature provides a forum where those interested in suicide prevention can meet and exchange views. It highlights the high rates of suicide and the importance of suicide prevention which presents a serious challenge to all interested parties tackling this growing problem. It is important to ensure that the public are informed about the high rates of suicide especially among young people and identify ways in which we can reach out to those individuals and prevent the loss of more young lives.

I recognise the many challenges that lie ahead and I am aware that there are no easy interventions that will bring a guarantee of success. International evidence shows that reducing the suicide rate and preventing suicides requires a collective, concerted effort from all groups in society – health, social services and other professionals, communities, voluntary and statutory agencies and organisations, parents, friends and neighbours.

In this regard, many of you here today will be aware that Reach OutANational Strategy for Action on Suicide Prevention was launched in September 2005.A fundamental aim of this strategy is to prevent suicidal behaviour, including deliberate self-harm, and to increase awareness of the importance of good mental health among the general population. Ongoing, quality, multi-disciplinary research will be an essential strand of the strategy and findings will be of greatest value where they can inform and stimulate action and service development.

One of the Action Areas of Reach Out is that consultation be organised with young people to ask them about mental health services and service development. TheNational Office for Suicide Prevention is exploring ways of reaching young people through email and textmessaging in order to develop sustainable support services.

The National Office is also working with Pavee Point, local traveller groups and the Parish of the Travellers to determine the best way of addressing suicide and deliberate self harm among the Traveller community.

Reach Out also recognised that marginalised groups are particularly vulnerable to suicide. With this in mind, during 2005, two suicide prevention awareness sessions were delivered to traveller’s groups in the North East. A counselling service is also being developed in Galway as a partnership initiative between the Galway Traveller Movement, Adult Survivors of Abuse Counselling Service and the HSE Resource Officer. However, in general the uptake of mental health services among Travellers is believed to be low and where they are availed of, various problems are encountered which may be due to a combination of inappropriate provision and a lack of awareness or confidence among Travellers in relation to the services.

As we are all aware, there was, in the past, a reluctance to even discuss the issue of suicide. Thankfully, this situation has now changed. In Ireland, the level of discussion and openness on mental health issues, including deliberate self harm and suicide has increased significantly in recent years. This is a very welcome development. However, we do need to ensure that public discussion and media coverage of suicide and deliberate self harm remains measured, well informed and sensitive to the needs and well-being of psychologically vulnerable and distressed individuals in our society. In particular, we need to continue to work as a society to create a culture and environment where people in psychological distress feel able to seek help from family, friends and health professionals.

Suicide touches the lives of many people and is in every case a tragedy, both for the life that has ended and the family, friends and community left behind. Many of us will know someone who has attempted or completed suicide.

Preventing suicide and reducing the rate of suicide in Ireland is therefore an urgent public health issue, one that goes right to the heart of our efforts and policies to create a healthy, prosperous and socially inclusive Ireland.

In conclusion, I would like to thank everyone involved in this research and also those involved in the organisation of this conference. Events such as these ensure that suicide is afforded the attention that such a serious issue warrants. I also wish to assure you that the Government is committed to the implementation of suicide prevention initiatives and the further development of our mental health services in order to prevent, and reduce further tragic loss of life.

Thank you