Staff from the national Pacific health education organisation, Le Va, began training ministers and other senior figures to understand signs of mental illness in their Hutt Valley congregations as part of the Ta’iala Mo le Ola Manuia Mental Health Project in 2019.
The success of the project in the Hutt Valley will see it rolled-out to more than 30 churches associated with the Fellowship of Samoan Ministers Wellington Region in 2021.
The work ties in to the broad 3DHB Pacific Health and Wellbeing Strategic Plan for the Greater Wellington Region 2020-2025, which was launched by Minster for Pacific Peoples and Associate Minister of Health (Pacific Peoples) Hon Aupito William Sio in Porirua on December 3.
Fellowship chairman and reverend elder Malaki Muaiava (pictured) said the churches had created communities like villages for Pacific Peoples living in New Zealand.
Respecting family was often of the utmost importance, but traditional values sometimes made it hard for young people to talk to their parents about sensitive issues.
“But here in the churches we have a chance to talk to parents about this.
“They should be the core of this so we need to help them understand what’s going on.”
The project began as a partnership between the Hutt Valley District Health Board Pacific Health Directorate and the Samoan Ministers Fellowship Hutt Valley (Mafutaga).
Le Va staff use a combination of cultural, pastoral, spiritual and clinical knowledge to equip church leaders with the skills to be the first responders to their congregations in regard to mental health issues and suicide prevention. They can then direct people to the appropriate support service.
Wairarapa DHB, Hutt Valley DHB and Capital & Coast DHB Pacific People’s Health interim director Tofa Suafole Gush initiated the project due to the growing awareness of mental health issues within the Pacific community.
The survey Te Rau Hinengaro (2006), found 47 per cent of Pacific people had experienced a mental disorder at some stage during their lifetime compared with 39.5 per cent of the overall New Zealand population.
However, Pacific Peoples were less likely to make a mental health visit to a health service as only 7.8 per cent of Pacific had a mental health visit.
“Now we want to extend the project further. We want to encourage all people – not just Samoan people - to connect with these churches, wherever you are from, to learn about mental health for your family.”