What is Gypsy, Roma, Traveller History Month?
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month (GRTHM) has taken place every year since 2008 to celebrate and elevate the voices of the people of these communities, and challenge and smash the stigmas which have oppressed them for centuries.
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people are commonly grouped together under the umbrella of ‘GRT’, but this actually represents diverse groups of different communities, who share similar characteristics and values: the importance of home and family, adopting a nomadic lifestyle, a tendency to be self-employed, and experiences of disadvantage.
Romany Gypsies have been in Britain since the 1500s, the name derived from people originally believing that they came from Egypt, however it has been found that this group migrated from northern India. There are several different GRT communities in the UK, including, but not limited to: Gypsies, Roma, Irish Travellers, Scottish Travellers, and Welsh Travellers. Each of these groups are classed as ethnic minorities, and each have their own unique languages.
History of experiencing prejudice, hate and violence
For centuries, GRT communities have faced stigma, hate and prejudice, which is reinforced by the treatment by law, police and the media.
What is still in living memory for some, but is rarely spoken of, is the mass genocide of an estimated 500,000 Roma and Sinti people during the Holocaust. Although there is greater awareness of this today, there is still very little recognition for the victims and survivors of these atrocities. We know that horrifying events like these can leave transgenerational trauma amongst families and communities, and the effects of which can still be felt decades later.
Data shows that in Ireland, people from the Traveller communities are six times more likely to die by suicide, compared to the general population. As it stands, there is no distinguished data collected for deaths by suicide in Gypsy and Traveller communities in England, Scotland and Wales, however it is estimated to be of a similar figure. This therefore means that there are no specific government strategies in place to reduce suicides in GRT communities in the UK.
In a recent study (GATE Herts, 2020), data was collected following 131 suicides or suicide attempts within a five-year time frame. It was found that 90% of those who died by, or attempted suicide in this time had previously experienced a hate incident. Community respondents said hate incidents included social media abuse (87%), bullying of family members (78%) and racial hatred following media reports (82%).
It’s important to remember that “correlation does not equal causation”. I.e. although we see a significant relationship between those in GRT communities receiving hate, and them dying by or attempting suicide, it cannot be said that this is the single causing factor. At PAPYRUS, we are well aware that suicide is complex, and that the contributing factors to this are often many, and may build up over a large period of time.
However, it was found that respondents to the survey have “stressed the corrosive effect on mental health and wellbeing of being subject to hate speech and discrimination.”, therefore it is important that this is something that is addressed.
Barriers to services
Many of those from GRT communities have reported experiencing fear or distrust of authorities impacted by a collective experience and memory of the prejudices experienced from them. Often GRT people find barriers to registering with a GP due to not having a fixed address, but also due to the overt racism and prejudice that they often experience.
Some people from GRT communities report that stigma towards the idea of mental health within their communities, is also a barrier. As for groups of people which have historically faced great hostility and hardship, an attitude of ‘stoicism’ is often endorsed. For many, they may not have the access to the education to challenge their own misconceptions of the term. Therefore, this can be a barrier to both reaching out for support, but also to have the knowledge of what support options are available.
Often people from GRT communities will access A&E for medical support instead of accessing a GP, as people have reported that there feel less stigma and prejudice in their treatment. For example, not being questioned about their address. There are, however, downsides to this meaning that this is not always the best use of A&E resources, and that this is not ongoing, long-term support, meaning that there may be little continuity of care. This also means that people often only access healthcare at a point of crisis. As we know, early intervention plays a vital role in the recovery of mental ill health.
What can we do to inspire change?
Social change can be slow and take time. With the age of social media, while it has its pros and cons, can offer a powerful platform to oppressed communities to voice their lived experiences.
On a governmental level, changes need to take place to improve the access that people of GRT backgrounds have to essential healthcare and education, to allow early intervention and better management of mental health and thoughts of suicide. There is ongoing research from UK charity Friends Families Travellers of the impact of suicide in these communities in England, Wales and Scotland. Hopefully, these findings can offer rationale for specific suicide prevention strategy in these communities.
On an organisational level, companies have a duty of care to review whether their policies are inclusive towards their staff or their consumers. They can also invest in company-wide training to educate their staff, and promote a safe place for people of GRT backgrounds. On an individual level, we can expand our knowledge and awareness of lived experiences of Gypsy, Roma and Travellers, and advocate for people of these communities to uphold their rights. Remember – if you’re unsure, it’s okay to ask!
Where can I find out more information?
Greenfields, M. and Rogers, C., 2020. Hate: as regular as rain. [online] GATE Herts, pp.1-88. Available at: <https://gateherts.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Rain-Report-201211.pdf> [Accessed 20 June 2022].