Four teenage suicides have rocked the Traveller community of Ireland in just one week.
Last Friday a 15-year-old girl killed herself. She was laid to rest on Tuesday in Limerick City. Her boyfriend, aged 17, then took his own life when he’d learned of his girlfriend’s death.
There were also two other female teens who took their lives.
The Limerick couple both had previously been personally affected by suicide. The girl’s brother had taken his own life and two men in the young man’s family had also died in this way, reports the Herald.
The Irish Travellers are defined by Irish law as a “community of people who are commonly called Travellers and who are identified (both by themselves and others) as people with a shared history, culture and traditions including, historically, a nomadic way of life on the island of Ireland.”
In 2010 the All Ireland Traveller Health Study identified a disproportionately high level of mental health issues among Travellers. The study showed a suicide rate six times the national average that accounts for 11 percent of Traveller deaths.
Willie O’Dea, a Fianna Fáil politician representing Limerick, described the deaths as a “terrible tragedy” and expressed his sympathies to the families involved.
Limerick Fine Gael politician Dan Neville, president of the Irish Association of Suicidology, expressed his condolences and pointed out that suicide rates were higher among young people, and among members of the Traveller community.
Ronnie Fay, from Pavee Point, a center which supports human rights for Irish Travellers, told the Irish Times that schools in Ireland need to do more to address bullying and racism. Although schools are on their summer break the young girls' teachers have been informed.
A campaign to raise awareness of mental health in the Traveller community is being championed by Kelly Mongan, a singer known for her appearance on Ireland’s talent contest “The Voice”. She helped launch a DVD developed by Sligo Traveller Support Group and the Health Service Executive.
Speaking about the four suicides this week Mongan told the Herald, “That is a really shocking figure. Nobody knows why they did it.
"It could have been discrimination but it could also have been for many other reasons."
She added, “A main contributor to the increased suicide figures is the high levels of prejudice, discrimination and racism experienced by the Traveller community in Ireland.
“We are hoping to bring down the level of prejudice and discrimination and that people will start to see one another as individuals rather than as 'you are the Traveller and I'm settled'."