25 Sep 2020

Mental health awareness among Pasifika improving but more to be done

10:22 pm on 25 September 2020

Despite greater sensitivity around the subject of mental health within New Zealand's Pasifika community, more still needs to be done.

That's according to some working on addressing the issue of well-being.

Closeup of unrecognizable African man comforting woman during group therapy session with psychologist, copy space

Photo: 123RF

Mental Health Awareness Week is drawing to a close in Aotearoa and public health researcher Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath said it had been a good reminder to keep an eye out for āiga or whānau and friends.

"Our family members, we are all going through some tough times and ensuring everyone has some safe spaces and there are some people to lean on and reach out to and vice versa."

Tiatia-Seath, who co-heads the school of Māori and Pacific Studies and was on the government's 2018 Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry, said it was also important for people to make themselves available if needed.

"You can't expect someone who isn't feeling too well to do the reaching out. It is our responsibility as family members, as church members, or team-mates, to be able to identify those in our loved ones and our mates.

"So everyone is accountable and everyone should improve or increase their own mental health literacy around it."

Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath, Co-Head of School of Māori Studies and Pacific Studies, University of Auckland

Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath, Co-Head of School of Māori Studies and Pacific Studies, University of Auckland Photo: Auckland University

Josiah Tualamali'i was also part of the mental health inquiry and said he had wrestled with depression in the past.

"I got a $20,000 law scholarship when I finished school and things were going quite well and then after a few really difficult months I ended up having to leave because I was so unwell.

"It was my family and my psychologist who helped me work through what was going on"

Tualamali'i said talking helped him and he drew on that experience regularly.

He encouraged those going through dark times to reach out and said going to professionals to have mental health issues addressed was "just as important as going to the doctor for a broken bone."

Tualamali'i said there was no weakness in either move.

The Christchurch-based founder of Pacific Youth Leadership and Transformation said the reality was many Pasifika young people continued to struggle with mental health issues.

There were a number of reasons for this but Tualamali'i said culture and identity were often targets.

"We are still hearing about the racism that exists in Aotearoa, and that might be at school or in the workplace, and whether that is a big thing or whether that is small comments, it doesn't matter. That has an effect on our sense of who we are."

Tualamali'i said recommendations aimed at easing issues in the Pasifika community were being addressed.

The government inquiry highlighted three areas including the recruitment of Pasifika mental health professionals, cultural support and the provision of peer-supporters who had lived similar experiences.

Tualamali'i said the recommendations were still being worked on in a slow and deliberate manner, justifiably so, as it needed to be addressed without political agenda.

"This is about real people's lives. This is about real pain. This is about the mother who has to go home and see her son is no longer with her because he has taken his life. This is about the family having to look after their loved one who is in deep pain and they can't speak to the pain that this person has."

Tualamali'i was adamant these sorts of issues could not be rushed.

"Money gets spoken about or new ways of getting support but really this has to be about real people so it does take time," he said

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Josiah Tualamali'i Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Denise Kingi-'Ulu'ave, CEO of Pasifika mental health organisation Le Va, said there did appear to be more awareness around mental well-being than in the past.

She said, for example, a lot had changed since she entered the sector as a clinical psychologist 20 years ago, when it was rare to see Pasifika working in the field.

"I was one of three Pacific Clinical Psychologists in the whole of New Zealand, now that has grown to approximately 20.

"So this suggests that our families are more aware and accepting of a need and the value of having a career in this area."

Kingi-'Ulu'ave said it also helped that Pasifika had a culture of looking after one another.

"We work hard on our relationships with one another but I think we have to focus on a more holistic way of taking care of ourselves which includes taking care of each other's mental well-being."

Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath agreed that things had improved but said a lot more still needed to be done.

"There are larger things at play. We know that systemically there is institutional racism, there's cultural incompetence and all that type of stuff can work to the detriment of our people.

"I think until we address some of the systemic issues then I think we will rarely see a shift. We can ask ourselves, 'what can Pacific people do for Pacific people?'

"Basically we need to ask our decision-makers 'what can you do for [Pasifika]?'"

She said the key was nurturing resilience and providing self-determination for Pacific people to determine what well-being meant to them.

Where to get help

Services across the Pacific for people who are struggling with their mental health.

In Tonga:

Lifeline 23000 or 25144

In Fiji:

Lifeline 667 0565

Fiji Women's Crisis Centre 3313300 (24 hours) Mobile: 9209470

In Papua New Guinea:

Lifeline Port Moresby 326 0011

1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain 7150 8000

In Samoa:

Samoa Lifeline 800-5433

In the Cook Islands:

Te Kainga O Pa Taunga 20162

In American Samoa:

252-3502 or 770-1571

In New Zealand:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children's helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155