4 Dec 2018

Mental Health Inquiry: What it means for Māori

5:53 pm on 4 December 2018

The Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction provides an insight into how conventional ways of treating Māori have failed.

A teenage Māori boy looking unhappy

40 recommendations were made to the government, including ways it could reduce the alarming and disproportionate rates of mental illness and addiction suffered by Māori. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

In the 200-page report, 40 recommendations were made to the government, including ways it could reduce the alarming and disproportionate rates of mental illness and addiction suffered by Māori.

RNZ's Te Aniwa Hurihanganui looks at what the inquiry means for Māori.

The issues facing Māori

The report highlighted 'conventional' services in dealing with mental illness and addiction among Māori had been hindered by an over reliance on medication, stigmatisation, overt-racism and a lack of understanding of Māori world views.

It said further barriers to providing appropriate care and support for Māori included the absence of cross-government responses to social determinants surrounding wellbeing, the exclusion of whānau, a failure to provide timely help and a lack of focus on treating Māori holistically.

"While Māori health has made significant gains, evidence is mounting that the system is not working for Māori and fundamental changes are needed," the report said.

Broadening the range of services

The report looked at ways Kaupapa Māori health services offered alternative forms of treatment and care for Māori that were inclusive of whānau, te reo Māori, tikanga, culturally-aligned intervention methods and the use of rongoā.

It said these services focused on treating patients holistically by involving whānau and looking at the socioeconomic environment in which people lived.

The report recommended that the government expand types of services available to people, including kaupapa Māori services, which offered alternative and culturally-appropriate evidence-based therapies and treatment.

Involving whānau

The report said many whānau had been excluded from any communication regarding a loved one's health and well-being when treated for a mental health issue or addiction.

It said for Māori and Pacific people especially, whanaungatanga [sense of family and community connection] was critical to wellness.

Whānau Ora approaches, Kaupapa Māori services and Pacifc-led services were preferred services among Māori, it said.

"They are fully inclusive of whānau and value relationships as strongly as medicine."

The report recommended that the government support whānau to be active participants in the care and treatment of a family member.

Mental health and addiction services can't do it alone

Improving wellbeing was bigger than addressing the needs of just the individual, the report said.

"The stress and trauma that people experience from lack of appropriate housing, poverty, cultural alienation, family violence, racism and the impact of colonisation cannot, and should not, be addressed by mental health and addiction interventions alone."

It said these factors enabled the perpetuation of inequitable outcomes for Māori.

The report recommended that the government should invest in broader prevention and promotion initiatives and coordinate cross-government responses to social well-being.

Reducing suicide rates

Ministry of health statistics show of the 668 people who died of suicide in the year to June 2018, Māori made up 142, the highest number since the provisional statistics began a decade ago.

The report recommended that the government should implement a national suicide prevention strategy, with a target of a 20 percent reduction in suicide rates by 2030.

It also said the government needed to create a suicide prevention office to provide stronger leadership on preventing suicide.