Mental health plea

CHRISTCHURCH – Mental health among young Pacific people needs urgent attention from the government, youth parliament representatives say.

The call has come from the Pacific Youth Parliament, which was set up to give young people a taste of how political decisions are made in New Zealand.

It coincided with the publication of a new study that found Pacific youth were three times more likely to attempt suicide than other ethnicities.

More Pacific scholarships, a greater understanding of Pacific history in schools and workplaces, higher pay for Pacific women and maintaining Housing New Zealand stock were all called for as part of the Pacific Youth Parliament (Our Movement) 2017 Bill presented in Christchurch.

The group called for a compulsory and comprehensive mental health program to be introduced in schools, along with frequent visits by a mental health liaison.

Youth MP Kristoffer Lavasi’i, 19, said he did not really talk about mental health growing up in Hamilton and it was not until after high school that he discovered two of his close friends were finding things difficult – “one who admitted he was suffering from severe depression and anxiety, and another who said they were basically cutting themselves”.

“It was really confronting to me because I was like, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t even know what to look for’,” he said.

“And even worse, I don’t know how to handle it now.”

An Auckland University study that showed Pacific youth were three times more likely than Pakeha to take their own life was confronting, he said.

“I think that reflects the urgency of some of the things we’re suggesting like compulsory mental health education. It just came out of this space where we were all very confronted and alarmed by our representation in the statistics.”

Non-government organisation Le Va addresses Pacific well-being and helps organisations and communities deal with mental health issues.

Chief executive Monique Faleafa said providing mental health programs in high school would decrease the stigma surrounding the issue and would not have to cost a lot.

“I think that if it was a national programme, we could actually ensure that it’s infused within a school curriculum,” she said.

“I know that school principals might be cringing as I say that because it’s just another thing they have to do – but actually, we already do really good health education, we already do really good well-being education.

“It could just be a little tweak and an add-on within that health and education curriculum that young people are already learning about.”

Outgoing Education Minister Hekia Parata said mental health was one of the seven key areas of learning in the Health and PE curriculum.

She acknowledged it was up to schools how they delivered it but said the responsibility for educating students about mental health needed to be shared between schools, parents and whnau.

Pacific Youth Parliament government whip Viane Makalio, 23, said having a mental health liaison visit each school would make a big difference.

It would help break down some of the barriers Pacific people faced when opening up to strangers, he said.

“I feel like our young people would be able to respond more actively to that rather than , ‘Oh go to the counsellor, he’ll fix everything,’ kind of approach.”Meanwhile, young Pacific Islanders in New Zealand are more likely than others to try to take their life according to new research.

Auckland University Pacific Studies lecturer Jemaima Tiatia-Seath is calling for more money and better suicide prevention strategies as a result.

In the study, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, Dr Tiatia-Seath said although the suicide rate was lower for Pacific and Asian people over 15 than the general population, Pacific islanders, especially those aged 12-18, were three times more likely to attempt suicide.

She said at least 22 suicides a year occured among Pasifika but the figures were likely to be under-reported.

The data was collected over the period 1996-2013.

Another journal article said under-diagnosis of depression and anxiety was more likely in Pasifika, Maori and Asian New Zealanders.

Dr Tiatia-Seath said racism and other problems were preventing Pacific people from using suicide prevention services.

She said mental health services were not catering to the needs of Pasifika.

“There’s cultural incompetency. There’s institutionalised racism.

“There is unease, there’s mistrust, so all these compounding factors do have a place in the way that Pacific people choose to access their services,” Dr Tiatia-Seath said.

She believed the Pacific community had the know-how to reduce suicides but needed more help.

Dr Tiatia-Seath called for more funding, staff and a more culturally sensitive approach to prevention.

“The community has the solution,” she said.

“The youth has the solution, but it is how then do we tap into all that knowledge and all that wisdom and be resourced for it. So we are able to provide an appropriate, relevant and effective suicide prevention strategy.”

More Stories