Pacific Youth call for Mental Health Education in Schools

Our young Pasifika leaders at the recent 2017 Pacific Youth Parliament, are lobbying for better mental health education in schools. 

Organised by Pacific Youth Leadership and Transformation (PYLAT) Council, based in Christchurch, 100 Pasifika young people from all around New Zealand participated and Le Va was there to support.
 
Dr Monique Faleafa agreed with their pledge for mental health education in schools because "It creates a better understanding of mental wellbeing, decreases stigma, and helps open doors for our most vulnerable to reach out and ask for help." You can get the full story from RadioNZ here.

We asked PYLAT board member Josiah Tuamali'i his thoughts about mental health education in schools and he has written a well-considered and thoughtful blog on his views and experiences as a young person.

The importance of mental Health in Education

Blog by Josiah Tualamali'i

When I started Uni at the age of 18, for the first time I began to feel comfortable to open up about some of the things I had held up inside. For a while I had been feeling down, and with the move from school to Uni I was super anxious and had really wanted to talk to someone, but I was too afraid. 

1. Talk - I started to test the water with the encouragement of my mum who noticed something was up and over a long period of time kept asking and listening. I would mention tid-bits to friends and others around me. This helped me see more people were feeling the way I was feeling, and that when I told someone I trusted they were unlikely to laugh in my face, or use it against me – but rather the opposite; wanting to be there and help make it easier for me.  

2. Culture - As an afakasi, it was also me learning to be confident and comfortable with what I am, and what I am not. So I joined the Samoan students association, and took a Pacific studies class. Both places helped me make new friends, learn more about Samoan culture and Pasifika worldviews, and also provided me with the space to ask the questions I had always wanted to ask but wasn’t sure who I could ask. While I’m unlikely to be the best at the sasa, or be able to do everything fa'asamoa, what I have been able to learn is the Samoan values of alofa, tautua and fa'aloalo which now assist me as a constant anchor in everything I do and I am confident and comfortable with that.

3. Connect - Taking the advice of our Pacific Development Team I went and saw a Counsellor. I was massively nervous before the first session, but once I was there my non-Pacific Counsellor just listened. The biggest thing that made an impact for me, was whilst others at my Uni had made me feel like (with the different pressures and things going on) the only solution was to drop something, my Counsellor affirmed that ‘meeting our different needs as Pacific people was important and there was nothing wrong with that’.  After that, all my fears were removed and I began to be able to off-load.  I have continued to see her for the last three years. I truly value the connection.  Each time we talk I feel the anxiety is almost halved because I am not carrying it by myself anymore. Before I met my current Counsellor, I had tried a few others who weren't the best fit, but that also taught me to keep persisting; if one isn't right for you, there will be someone out there who you can connect with. 

4. Strengthen Family - I started to block out non-study time with family in my calendar and, regardless of what was due, I would spend Sunday afternoons with my little brothers exploring our city. 

5. Spirituality - I joined a choir and started to have deeper discussions about faith (that I hadn’t previously had) with a close mentor.

So, what have I learned?  Looking back now, I am grateful to the important people in my life that I had been led to, and supported to work through the ‘Top 5 Tactics to Pasifika Wellbeing’ that Le Va has developed; To Talk, enrich culture, connect, strengthen family, and spirituality. 

It reminds me though for some people wanting to access help, later is not possible. That's why I am behind Pre-schools, Schools, Tertiary providers, and workplaces, all embedding mental health education in what they teach and how they lead these spaces. The major barrier for me was feeling that I needed to keep it to myself and not knowing who I could turn to. For younger Pasifika students’ I think it’s important that they are affirmed that the ‘Top 5 Tactics’ are great to practice, and this could easily be learnt in a fun way.  For mature students and those in the workplace, it would be good to also include practising decision making, learning about the people and places you could go to for support, and how to use this knowledge if others ever opened-up about something difficult. To genuinely do this well, each of our education spaces also need to look at the way they do things and critically assess:

  • What impact does this have on the wellbeing of those here?
  • Is it necessary? 

If we can make these changes in our education system, and also deliberately share with Pasifika young people and families about the ‘Top 5 Tactics’, I believe our Pasifika communities are in the best place to flourish.