A qualitative exploration of Irish Travellers' attitudes, beliefs, and experiences

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Courtney, Jason
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University College Cork
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To address the current health inequalities experienced by the Traveller community, it is important to understand the attitudes and beliefs of this population towards health. The health-related attitudes and beliefs of Irish Travellers were explored through a systematic review and thematic synthesis of the existing literature. 16 studies were included in the synthesis and three themes were generated: (i) the role of silence, (ii) factors impacting physical and mental health, and (iii) the characteristics of positive and negative support. Avoidant coping strategies were employed to ensure Travellers maintained a sense of control despite experiencing health difficulties, to protect individuals from stigma attached to these difficulties, and due to superstitious beliefs, such as discussing health difficulties can have a negative impact on prognosis. Environmental, social, and cultural factors which impact health were discussed. Characteristics of positive and negative support experienced by Travellers in healthcare services were highlighted. The clinical implications of these findings, and future directions for research are discussed. The relationship between mental health and trauma is increasingly being recognised. Irish Travellers experience higher levels of anxiety, depression and frequent mental distress in comparison to individuals from the settled population. The suicide rate of Irish Travellers is also six times higher than that of the general population. To date, no study has explored experiences of trauma with this population. This study aimed to investigate Irish Travellers’ experiences of adversity and trauma from the perspective of Irish Travellers. 12 participants (nine women, three men) with a mean age of 35.6 years (range = 24-66), took part in face-to-face semi-structured interviews. Data from these interviews was analysed using a six-step reflexive thematic analysis approach. Analysis generated four over-arching themes: (1) concealing identity, (2) victimisation, (3) a life of fear, and (4) the impact of trauma. Travellers conceal their identity at times to protect themselves from discrimination and this was linked by participants to a range of mental health difficulties. Participants reported experiencing victimisation by a range of organisations and services and having internalized somewhat negative stereotypes assigned to them by these groups. Participants also reported an ongoing sense of fear which related to different issues for each participant, including anticipated discrimination. These processes of internalizing stereotypes and anticipating discrimination were also associated with mental health difficulties by participants. The Traveller community and culture was seen as a protective factor, as participants were not discriminated against in their own community, allowing them to embrace their identity without the need for concealment. Traumatic experiences were largely linked to experiences of discrimination and racism. The results of this study indicate that race based traumatic stress is a major factor in the significantly higher level of mental health difficulties experienced by Irish Travellers in comparison with the general population. This highlights the need for culturally sensitive services which understand and embrace Travellers. Further clinical implications and directions for future research are discussed.
Irish Travellers , Trauma , Adversity , Forced assimilation , Experiences , Health , Beliefs , Systematic review
Courtney, J. 2023. A qualitative exploration of Irish Travellers' attitudes, beliefs, and experiences. DClinPsych Thesis, University College Cork.
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