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NZ-born Pacific youth 'vulnerable' to mental health risk - expert

Published: 10:14AM Wednesday March 28, 2012 Source: ONE News

Young Pacific people born in New Zealand are more vulnerable to mental health problems than those who migrate here, a mental health specialist says.

While youth suicide is a major problem in New Zealand generally, young Pacific people who grow up here are even more likely to have depression or make suicide attempts, Dr Siale Foliake, Counties Manukau DHB clinical director for Pacific Mental Health, said today.

"If you look closely at any society, there are forces at work that either make us more vulnerable to mental health problems or they make us more resilient," Foliake told TV ONE's Breakfast.

"There's something about growing up in an urban context in New Zealand, perhaps away from our connections back home, that make our young people more vulnerable."

Foliake's comments come ahead of an Auckland symposium next week which will focus on mental health, addiction and disability issues within New Zealand's Pacific community.

The rates of post-natal depression among Pacific women are 22-24%, compared with 12-14% in other cultures, and this may be having a flow-on effect, Foliake said.

"It may not show itself until the teenage years but it certainly has an impact on the development of the growing child," he said.

What is the solution?

The high suicide risk for young Pacific people has prompted a network of Pasifika psychologists, graduates and psychology students, called Pasifikology, to host next week's conference.

Dr Monique Faleafa, national manager of Le Va and a member of Pasifikology, said Pacific people in New Zealand must be part of the solution if suicide statistics are to drop.

"The New Zealand suicide prevention strategy clearly identifies that suicide prevention strategies aimed at Pacific peoples need to be tailored for those peoples, and mindful of specific cultural contexts and beliefs," Faleafa said.

"It makes no sense to develop solutions which are not based in a cultural context."

Foliake said many mental health services for Pacific people are funded to pick up the problems once they have occurred.

Pacific youth struggle to find their identity in New Zealand and more effort needs to be put into helping them do so, he said.

"There really has to be a shift in the way that the health system works in terms of doing more preventative work and putting funding into earlier stages of a child's life."