30 Nov 2016

Research into Pacific athletes' mental health begins

From , 4:04 pm on 30 November 2016

A young researcher will spend the next three years looking at the mental health and well-being of elite Pacific athletes.

Caleb Marsters has received a scholarship from the Health Research Council of New Zealand to look into the issue.

Mr Marsters says a lot of Pasifika are doing well in sports, for example with more than 40 percent of Rugby League's NRL players having a Pacific heritage

However he says increasingly young Pasifika athletes have been linked to depression and suicide.

Pasifika researcher Caleb Marsters

Pasifika researcher Caleb Marsters Photo: supplied

CALEB MARSTERS: A lot has been done on the risk factors and the challenging things that people have to deal with but I guess I wanted to approach it from what can be done to support and promote the positive side of things. Just being a big sports fan as well, I started seeing all these stories about mostly like young, young P.I (Pacific Island) players with like suicides over in Oz (Australia) in the NRL and even the stories recently like Malakai Fekitoa and even the Sione Faumuina story. These stories sort of just attracted me to what's happening because in our community these are like heroes for our young men in our community. Just looking at sports, P.I men, they're well represented in the sporting circles. Just turning on the TV or going to the field on the weekend you can see there are a lot of brown faces out there doing well in sports but then these stories bring it back that they are just humans like everyone else. That's what really stood out for me.  Why are they going through these things? What can we do to prepare younger athletes as well and support them when they make it to that elite level so they are prepared to deal with all the things with that sort of career choice and a life in that space.

KORO VAKA'UTA: What is it, do you think, that makes it challenging for Pasifika in the world of professional sport?

CM: One of the big things is probably the background to a lot of the P.I athletes, it is a lot different to most of the mainstream athletes, the way they view the world and their responsibilities and commitments away from the field. The responsibilities they deal with, everything is more high-stakes for them. Coming from the statistics as we can see, a lot of them are coming from lower socio-economic areas and stuff. It is not just about the individual. There is a lot around them and a lot of things that are real important to them that they also have to deal with. Giving back to family. Being seen as role models in the community. There is a lot of pressures that some other athletes don't have. For Pacific athletes, in our communities, they are the leaders. Their experience in elite sport is a lot different from some of the other athletes out there. The way they view well-being as well is a lot different than the mainstream views of things. Everything is real holistic and relational. The experience in general both on the field and off the field is a lot different to most of the other athletes out there.

KV: What are you looking to achieve?  Your goals and aims for this project?

CM: One of the main things we are looking to achieve in the big picture is just raising awareness and trying to understand what positive mental well-being means to these young athletes and identifying some of the factors that influence their mental health. That is the main thing is seeing how they identify with the notion of mental well-being to start with. Seeing ways we can support and promote positive mental well-being when they are in the elite space and also for the younger players when they are in the development grades. Giving a voice to the athletes around the issue as well is a big thing. There hasn't really been any research on what mental well-being means to athletes so I think that is the real important thing for not just health services but for the organisations and the clubs is understanding what mental well-being is to young P.I athletes. Mental health is quite subjective. That's the first thing is just understanding what mental health means to them. Moving forward just hopefully creating a more positive space for people to seek help when they are going through things and also from a young age acknowledging that these things, it is okay to not be okay but at the same time creating spaces that promote that positive side of mental health as well.