West Yorkshire: Reducing risk of suicide in the Gypsy and Traveller community

West Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership is working to ensure that people who have been affected by suicide can help to shape the training, support and resources on offer. One project has been looking to reduce the risk of suicide within West Yorkshire’s Gypsy and Traveller community.

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The challenge and response

Across the UK, Gypsies and Travellers face some of the most severe health inequalities and poorest life outcomes of any community. Life expectancy is significantly lower than for the settled population and the risk of suicide is higher.

West Yorkshire is home to around 7,000 Gypsy and Traveller people. For the past two decades they have been served by the Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange, or ‘Leeds GATE’ – a community-led voluntary sector organisation. There is a thriving community building in Leeds, and pioneering work extends across the region.

With an average of six suicides each year affecting this community locally, West Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership used NHS England suicide prevention funding to deliver a two-year contract with Leeds GATE. This work aimed to reduce the risk of suicide through one-to-one support, developing suicide awareness training and working to reduce stigma related to mental health.

The project set out to reach as many people as possible across West Yorkshire through outreach work in venues such as gyms, churches and other community-based organisations, as well as providing support to people living in houses, sites and roadside encampments.

Intensive one-to-one support was provided to 33 people deemed to be at significant risk of suicide. Many of them reported multiple risk factors such as poor health (84%), financial difficulties (78%), feeling isolated (64%) and an unstable relationship (30%).

Key to the project’s success was Leeds GATE mental health worker Bernard Cunningham, who is from a Romany Gypsy background and is passionate about mental health in his community. This project had made the community feel heard and valued, he said:

People are experiencing multiple risk factors and are shouldering these themselves or within their family unit. That’s why this project is so badly needed. It’s shown what can be done, and that people do want to engage when it’s done right and designed around them.

Lived experience

As the ringfenced funding came to an end, the Gypsy and Traveller project was at risk of ceasing – but money has been found from West Yorkshire Integrated Care Board (ICB) to maintain it for another year within the wider population health programme.

Other projects that utilised the suicide prevention funding are at still risk. They include a co-production contract through Leeds Mind designed to bring the voice of lived experience into suicide prevention decision-making and planning. This work has been driven by a group of volunteers who have all been affected by suicide in different ways.

They produced a short training film for staff working in health and care which shares their experiences and highlights positive practice in suicide prevention. The film is being used to aid staff development and identify opportunities for service improvement.

Other initiatives delivered through Leeds Mind include working with Yorkshire Ambulance Service to support call handlers on how to talk about suicide and how to manage calls from people who feel suicidal.

Funding was also used to develop a dedicated website which now has around 8,000 visits each month – almost 400 from people who want to access help urgently. This has now been mainstreamed.

Looking ahead

Richard James, Acting Consultant in Public Health at NHS West Yorkshire ICB, said the funding had initially enabled them to build some strong data, then to deliver on the suicide prevention strategy. It helped partner agencies to work across the system – which is essential when tackling a complex issue such as suicide.

Richard said:

It has also shown the value of ICBs and partnership working – not only to be there to coordinate networks but to be able to do some work at system level. It has been a real chance to show the value of working in that way.

They are now navigating the end of this funding stream.

We’ve got the relationships, the investment from people, and projects that are proving useful. If a pilot works, you want to maintain the offer and grow it. That’s something we can’t always do at the moment. We are securing pockets of funding by a year extra here or there, but that is making it difficult to embed some of these fantastic projects.

We can’t simply pause this work and pick things up where they were if more funding comes through in a year’s time. It’s such a shame, when the wheels are rolling, to then have to put the brakes on.


For further information contact:

Richard James, Acting Consultant in Public Health, [email protected]

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