26 May 2017

Pacific researchers tackle taboo over suicide

7:54 pm on 26 May 2017

Pacific researchers in Auckland have joined forces to produce the first ethnic specific framework on suicide prevention among Tongan youth in New Zealand.

Youth Advisor Edmund Fehoko leading the Tongan Youth Suicide Prevention Resource Launch in Auckland

Youth Advisor Edmund Fehoko leading the Tongan Youth Suicide Prevention Resource Launch in Auckland Photo: RNZI / Sela Jane Aholelei

In New Zealand, Pacific youth are three times more likely to attempt suicide, according to a University of Auckland study published this year in the New Zealand Medical Journal.

Cultural barriers around discussing suicide have long been seen as an obstacle preventing people at risk from coming forward.

Suicide is considered a particularly taboo topic in the Tongan culture and research on that needed to be handled carefully.

'Kavei Koula 'e Fa', or the four golden themes that Tongan families build their homes around, was a strong component that needed to be considered when building what is now called Heilala Malu.

*Love - 'Ofa

*Respect - Faka'apa'apa

*Humility - Anga fakato ki lalo

*Maintaining good relationships - Tauhi va

The resource development project was led by an Auckland University of Technology PhD student, 'Aulola Fuka-Lino.

Ms Fuka-Lino shared that Heilala Malu is not only a tool to inform the public, but a way to honour the families involved and their lost ones.

"It's celebrating the voices of those who have gone and honouring their story and their narratives that their families were actually able to share," she explained.

"I was only a driver of that and I mobilised the experiences of those people and through this pamphlet, I will honour them."

Ms Fuka-Lino said being mindful of the culture, approaching the families and delivering the information needed had to be taken with caution.

The Tongan values instilled in her helped with interviewing Tongan families who were bereaved by suicide for research.

"It's important that I stayed true to the voices of the participants," she said.

"It's not about writing about the death of a family member. We had to make sure we weren't just going to the families to collect data. We wanted to connect with them and we did. We could feel the realness of the pain."

Tagaloatele Professor Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop and 'Aulola Fuka-Lino officially launching Heilala Malu.

Tagaloatele Professor Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop and 'Aulola Fuka-Lino officially launching Heilala Malu. Photo: RNZI / Sela Jane Aholelei

Youth advisor Edmund Fehoko was part of the advisory group that went out and interviewed thirteen Tongan families around New Zealand.

Mr Fehoko said he hoped the new resource would encourage those at risk to seek help and that it would end the treatment of suicide as a taboo subject in the Tongan community.

"It's quite a sensitve and heated topic at the moment. This is one of many projects that a lot of people using our cultural and our indigenous knowledge to hopefully benefit and contribute and build a better community for our future," said Mr Fehoko.

"A lot of things, issues came up when gathering data. Conflict with cultures, intergenerational conflict and just pure misunderstanding, but the key thing that was noted is that all of these issues are preventable. Having open and consistent communication within families is key to prevention."

Respected guests attended the launch of Heilala Malu, which was held at Auckland University of Technology.

The Chief Advisor for Pacific Health Hilda Fa'asalele attended on behalf of the Ministry of Health and applauded the framework.

Ms Fa'asalele said Pacific people have strong values and to maintain that in research on suicide and to use the resource to address suicide is not an easy task.

"One of the key things I love about this is it's ethnic specific; the fact that it's Tongan and done by people who are really strong in their Tongan culture," said Ms Fa'asalele

"They've built on the knowledge and the strong values of the Tongan families and community and that comes out very strongly. The fact that the Tongan families trusted them with their stories is not to be taken lightly."

Foaki me'aofa, the presentation of gifts for guests at the Tongan Youth Suicide Prevention Resource launch.

Foaki me'aofa, the presentation of gifts for guests at the Tongan Youth Suicide Prevention Resource launch. Photo: RNZI / Sela Jane Aholelei

Ms Fa'asalele hoped that this would provide a start for other ethnic groups to come forward.

"It has to come from the community, so whilst I would like to say 'Hey we need a Samoan one or a Niuean one', I think it needs to be driven by the community," said Ms Fa'asalele

"So if they feel that it's important to have, then we will definitely support what they would like to do."

Heilala Malu is carefully explained in both the English and Tongan languages.

The project was funded by the Health Research Council and the Ministry of Health provided funding also.

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may 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)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

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

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