The Death of Two ’My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ Stars Highlights the Mental Health Plight of Those in Traveler Communities

My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding premiered in 2010 in the United Kingdom and jumped the pond in 2011. The show, which aired for three years in the United States, followed the lead up to the lavish weddings thrown by members of the traveler community. Larger than life, and incredibly lavish, the lead up to the parties enticed and fascinated fans of reality TV shows, but behind the lavish events rests a severe problem within the traveler community. The deaths of Joe and Billy Smith, who appeared on the United Kingdom’s version of the series in 2014, highlight that problem.

Joe and Billy Smith die in an apparent suicide pact

Joe and Billy Smith appeared on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding in 2014. While the pair were featured as happy, healthy, and a little ostentatious on the show, something clearly changed in the five years since they appeared on the series. According to family members, the twins, who were 32 at the time of their death, were incredibly close and felt as if they couldn’t live without each other. Family members allege that a health crisis may have prompted the pair’s suicide pact.

According to The Telegraph, Joe had been diagnosed with cancer. Although family members claim they had been told the 32-year-old had been clear of the disease after receiving chemotherapy, they are no longer sure if he was telling the truth. Family members didn’t go into detail about the type of cancer he had been diagnosed with, or what his treatment plan entailed. The brothers were found deceased by their uncle in a local field. He went looking for the brothers after receiving a note outlining their location. News of the brother’s suicides broke on Dec. 30.

Who are the Roma people?

The Roma community, often considered part of the traveler community, has a pretty wild history. They are believed to have originated in northern India, although it is difficult to pin down their exact country of origin. Over the series of centuries, the Roma people have migrated across Europe with much of their origin story being lost, but their language seems to tie the ethnic group’s origin to northern India.

They are known for their insular culture and their transient nature. Although many of the modern-day Roma people no longer live a nomadic lifestyle, they continue to remain isolated, even when they are a part of a larger, modern city. Their insular nature likely has something to do with the persecution they have faced in the past and continue to face. The Roma people are considered a marginalized group.

The traveler community has a high suicide rate

The traveler community, sometimes known as Romani or Romas, apparently has a high suicide rate, according to The Washington Examiner. The publication spoke with a spokesperson for the traveling community. He noted, “life can be very difficult for Romani people and travelers, and they often suffer in silence.”  Young traveler men seem to be the most affected.

The cortege for the funeral of Queenie, the mother of Big Fat Gypsy Weddings star Paddy Doherty
Funeral procession | Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images

According to The Irish Times, the suicide rate among those within the traveler community is six times higher than the national average in Ireland. For men within the community, the suicide rate is seven times higher than the average. The reason behind the high rate of suicide is unknown, but challenging life circumstances appear to play a part. The unemployment rate among the traveler community is 84% in Ireland, and the community also has the lowest academic achievement rate. A lack of medical care and isolation may also play a part in the problem.