‘More research needed on Traveller self-harm’ – conference told

by Padraig Conlon
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Self-harm in the Traveller community is at unprecedented levels and more understanding is urgently needed.

This was among the key topics explored last week at a conference in St Patrick’s University Hospital.

Now in its fifth year, the Self-Harm Awareness Conference is a collaboration between St Patrick’s Mental Health Services and Pieta House that aims to equip healthcare professionals, parents, family members and carers with practical skills and advice for managing presentations of self-harm.

Alan Kavanagh, men’s mental health outreach worker with the Tallaght Travellers Community Development Project, spoke about the need for more research of self-harm in the Traveller community.

He said: “Barriers such as social exclusion, racism, discrimination, and poverty are known to contribute to trauma and mental health difficulties, which can underlie behaviours such as self-harm.

“While much research exists on the obstacles faced and trauma transmitted in various indigenous groups around the world, such analysis is non-existent from a Traveller perspective.

“It is vital that there is an understanding of what factors have caused trauma in the Traveller community in order to provide effective, culturally-specific treatment and reduce the high prevalence of behaviours such as self-harm,” he said.

Evidence shows that members of minority groups, such as Travellers, are more vulnerable to self-harming behaviours.

In the past six months, Traveller representatives told the Oireachtas of a mental health crisis and unprecedented rates of self-harm within the community.

Topics explored included the therapeutic use of metaphors when treating young people who self-harm, the assessment and management of patients presenting to emergency departments following self-harm, and actions needed to improve mental health within the Traveller community.

Studies have shown that self-harming behaviours in Ireland have risen significantly since records began in 2002, with a total of 12,588 presentations of self-harm in Ireland in 2018, compared to 10,537 presentations in 2002.

Of these presentations, young people are a particularly at-risk group, with a 29% increase in 10- to 24-year-olds presenting with self-harm in the 2007 to 2018 period.

According to an Oireachtas Committee Report, 14.9% of Travellers aged 35-54 years have a psychological or emotional disability, compared to 3% of their non-Traveller counterparts.

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