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Despite growing evidence for the role of culturally-centred programmes in addressing mental health needs, few programmes have been embedded into practice, says one researcher who hopes to change all that. 

Dr Kahu McClintock, Research Manager with Te Rau Matatini, has just been awarded $789,771 to test the use of indigenous approaches for helping at-risk Māori and Pacific youth. Funding comes from the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) and the Ministry of Health, as part of New Zealand’s first Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases funding round.

Dr McClintock’s Indigenous Solutions Research Programme will provide a suite of innovative, culturally-focused and community-based programmes to ensure young people are given access to culturally-responsive early intervention approaches to increase mental health resilience.

The Māori research, conducted with Te Rau Matatini, covers two projects: one in partnership with Cindy Mokomoko from Te Puna Hauora ki Uta ki Tai in the Bay of Plenty, investigating a cultural and theoretical programme for at-risk Māori youth, aged 12 – 18, who have been identified within the education system as having issues with either anxiety, violence, alcohol, drug abuse or depression; the other is in partnership with Eugene Davis from Te Ahurei a Rangatahi in Hamilton, based on marae (traditional spaces) learnings to help young Māori males aged 12 – 18, to strengthen coonections to Te Ao Māori enabling positive future focuses.

Dr McClintock says both projects will challenge what is in place and not working, and states that indigenous solutions are an effective and sustainable way forward for improving mental health outcomes.

Pacific youth also stand to benefit from more culturally-relevant services, says Dr McClintock. When Pacific peoples do engage in mainstream mental health, they sometimes find it foreign and alienating, she adds.

The Pacific research will be conducted in conjunction with the Family Centre (Pacific section) led by Taimalietu Kiwi Tamasese, and also covers two projects: one aims to increase Pacific communities’ understanding of mental health problems, enabling youth and families to act upon them earlier; the other focusses on the mental health workforce, equipping them to embed more culturally-relevant and responsive practices for Pacific people. The hope is that these projects, combined, will improve Pacific responsiveness and prevention of mental health problems while building up confidence in the mental health workforce.

The HRC’s senior manager of Māori Health Research Investment, Mr Stacey Pene, says these projects aim to translate well-recognised concepts into action.

“The research partnership between Te Rau Matatini, Te Ahurei a Rangatahi, Te Puna Hauora ki Uta ki Tai and the Family Centre Pacific Section represents an exciting opportunity to apply indigenous knowledge to improve mental health for our Māori and Pacific youth, their whānau, and communities,” he says.

“The development of such culturally-responsive programmes is vital for increasing the resilience of our youth, and reducing inequity.”

The Ministry of Health’s Māori Leadership spokesperson, Alison Thom, says the prevention and management of mental health is one of the priorities of the New Zealand health system.

“We are pleased to see research proposals that help inform the development and delivery of more effective mental health services and support for Māori and Pacific youth.”