University’s Research into Mental Health Support for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities

Peter Unwin - research release
Dr Peter Unwin

It will join forces with organisations working within these communities to lead an investigation to understand why inequalities might exist in mental healthcare provision and how they could be adapted to meet their needs.

Researchers aim to provide resources to ensure that good practice can be replicated around the country while offering wider practical recommendations for change, informed by the experiences of those people affected.

Dr Peter Unwin, Principal Lecturer in Social Work at the University of Worcester, is leading the research, which has been made possible thanks to a £100,000 grant from the NHS Race and Health Observatory, an independent body which works to identify and tackle ethnic inequalities in health and care. It follows on from his extensive research in this area already, having conducted a study into the experiences of disabled people from the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in 2019/2020.

“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,” he said. “Things are changing though, with champion boxer Tyson Fury, who has Irish traveller heritage, openly talking about mental health and BBC News recently 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.”

Historically, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller populations are underrepresented both in psychology research and in psychological therapies. Evidence shows these communities experience health inequalities along with a broader lack of understanding about their needs.

The University will co-ordinate the 10-month project, identifying focus groups in local areas where mental health initiatives are available. Dr Unwin will be visiting projects across the UK, some set up by Gypsies, Roma and Travellers themselves to try to meet their community’s mental health needs. These will be done alongside community led partners from the charity, the Gypsy and Traveller Empowerment Hertfordshire UK (GATEHerts), and the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller Social Work Association (GRTSWA).

Dr Unwin said: “We will meet the people who use these innovative services and explore why they attend, what seems to work for them and whether the model could be replicated elsewhere in the UK as part of a push to stem the mental health crisis among Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.”

The research team will focus on five projects in depth, identifying examples of effective practice and developing case studies. They will meet key health and social care organisations in those areas to see whether mainstream mental health services could be reconfigured in ways that include Gypsies, Roma 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.”