24 May 2017

'If it saves lives it is worth humbling yourself for'

9:56 am on 24 May 2017

A group of Tongan families left devastated by teenage suicide have helped to develop a guide they hope will show others in their community what to be on the alert for.

AUT PhD student ‘Aulola Lino

AUT PhD student 'Aulola Lino. Photo: RNZ / Laura Tupou

The first Tongan youth suicide prevention resource was launched last night at AUT after two years of work.

Through teary eyes, Auckland University's Jemaima Tiatia-Seath said she would never stop fighting for the prevention of suicide in Pacific youth.

"I'm not embarrassed and I'm not afraid to feel like this because I preach it.

"We have to be vulnerable to our young people, we have to allow the opportunity for each other to speak," she said.

"Because if it saves lives, then man, it is worth humbling yourself for. Don't beat it out of our children. Don't think that you are turning your back on your traditions and the things you love... Because at the end of the day we [could] lose a life."

The Tongan Framework for Suicide Prevention, or Heilala Malu, outlines potential warning signs, risk factors, and solutions from those who know best - people who have lost a young family member to suicide.

The resource was funded by the Health Research Council and the idea came from the participants of Dr Tiatia-Seath's 2015 research into suicide prevention for Tongan youth in Aotearoa.

The study interviewed 13 Tongan families from around the country bereaved from suicide.

Dr Tiatia-Seath and AUT PhD student 'Aulola Lino developed the pamplet along with an advisory panel.

"This isn't just a piece of paper... The point is in the voices of our families that we've lost. The voices of our young people that have gone before us," Dr Tiatia-Seath told the packed room.

The presentation of heilala kakala

The presentation of heilala kakala Photo: RNZ / Laura Tupou

The pamphlet explains the framework from a Tongan perspective and is in both English and Tongan languages.

"The heilala is the most significant flower of Tonga. It represents hierarchy, and it represents status, and it represents value and worth. And so we wanted to use that analogy and the metaphor to depict [suicide prevention] so that it resonates with the value and worth of life itself," Ms Lino said.

The framework is underpinned by four pillars of Tongan culture: 'ofa (love, compassion, care and kindness), toka'i (to give and receive respect), loto lelei (humility and open minded), and fetauhi'aki (maintaining respectful relationships).

Participants from the 2015 study were at the launch, along with community and church leaders, professionals, grandparents, and family and friends of the people involved.

The Heilala Malu pamphlet will be distributed by health services, churches, and the Pacific wellbeing organisation, Le Va, from today.

Ms Lino said she hoped organisations would use it and tailor it to their needs.

It was just the beginning and other Pacific nations were encouraged to develop specific resources for their people, she said.

Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath receiving a heilala kakala.

Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath receiving a heilala kakala. Photo: RNZ / Laura Tupou

Where to get help relating to suicide and mental health:

  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (24/7)
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who might 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)
  • Healthline: 0800 611 116

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.