Research grant awarded to address mental health needs for Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities

The NHS Race and Health Observatory has awarded a £100k research grant to the University of Worcester to investigate how mental health services are engaging Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities across the UK.

As part of a 10-month project, announced during Gypsy, Roma and Traveller month, the University will explore the gaps within existing NHS mental health care provision and provide deeper understanding of why inequalities continue to exist in mental health care for members of these communities. The research team will identify examples of effective practice and develop case studies and resources to ensure that this practice can be replicated around the country.

Historically, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller populations are underrepresented both in psychology research and in psychological therapies. Evidence shows these communities experience health inequalities which, combined with a broader lack of understanding about their needs, has resulted in healthcare not always being tailored to their needs.

The project, undertaken in partnership with the Gypsy and Traveller Empowerment Hertfordshire UK (GATEHerts), and the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller Social Work Association (GRTSWA), will also offer a series of broader evidence-based practical recommendations for change.

Every element of the work will be co-produced with members of these communities and extensive community engagement will inform conclusions and outputs.

Dr Peter Unwin, Principal Lecturer in Social Work at the University of Worcester, welcomed the opportunity to work with GATE Herts and the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller Social Work Association to explore mental health services that members of the UK’s Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities would take up.

Dr Unwin said: “My 2020 research into the missing voices of disability in these communities only scratched the surface with regard to mental health, taboo and stigma being cultural barriers that prevent such issues even being discussed. Things are changing though, with champion boxer Tyson Fury, who has Irish traveller heritage, openly talking about mental health and BBC News last month running a feature on the suicide crisis among Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

“The University of Worcester has a strong commitment to social justice and a track record of working with marginalised groups, and this research opportunity from the NHS Race and Health observatory will break new ground with members of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities working at the core of the research team, alongside academics and practitioners.”

The research review will set out to:

  • Highlight effective community engagement and other interventions which have had a measurable effect on access, experience and outcomes in mental health pathways for these communities
  • Identify shortfalls in current provision
  • Assess the availability and uptake of relevant health literature
  • Explore factors affecting care seeking among these communities, including a consideration of how individuals view mental health difficulties
  • Review cultural competence and understanding among the health and care workforce, including exploring training and the profile of interpreters.

Allison Hulmes, National Director, GRTSW Association, said:

“We are proud to be awarded this contract alongside our partners GATE Herts and Dr Peter Unwin from the University of Worcester. Researching what works best for our diverse communities, in seeking out and addressing good mental health solutions, must be a priority if we are to stop this tidal wave of trauma that living with persistent inequalities has handed down to each generation.”

The final report will deliver a resource toolkit and recommendations around how progressive projects can be practically scaled up and learning spread across voluntary, community and statutory mental health services.

Josie O Driscoll, Chief Executive Officer, Gate Herts, said:

“This kind of research is needed now more than ever due to the rising number of deaths by suicide within our communities.  Gate Herts are proud to be awarded this contract alongside our partners from the University of Worcester and the GRTSW Association. We know that inequalities exist in access to mental health care, we understand the issues, so we now need to identify current best practice out there and set out proposals and recommendations for amplifying such practice to ensure improved outcomes in mental health pathways for Gypsies and Travellers.

Dr Habib Naqvi, Director of the NHS Race and Health Observatory, said:

“It is essential that healthcare professionals and clinicians who assess and treat individuals from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities are competent in delivering equitable care which is culturally appropriate. This work will be key in helping us tackle some of the stark health inequalities experienced by these communities.”

The University of Worcester will lead and co-ordinate areas of research and methodology and identify focus groups in local areas where mental health initiatives are available. GATE Herts will engage their pool of trained community researchers to explore the efficacy of identified local projects and the GRTSWA will use its networks to work with local voluntary and statutory mental health organisations.