When your own community experiences more mental health challenges than the rest of the population, something needs to change. It was this thinking that prompted Dr Sione Vaka of Massey University’s School of Nursing to launch a unique mental illness research project based around ‘Ūloa’, a traditional Tongan approach to fishing.
Why the Pacific community needs new approach to mental illness
Effectiveness of Ūloa Model, Dr Vaka’s research project funded by Health Research Council, looks at the prevalence of mental illness in New Zealand’s Pacific community, which is five percent higher than the general population according to Te Rau Hinengaro – The New Zealand Mental Health Study.
Dr Vaka recognised Pacific people’s interpretation of mental health services varies as some use western medicine services like hospitals and clinics, while others prefer traditional healers, which are more culturally sensitive. There is currently little cohesion across the board and hospital staff often have little understanding of Pacific culture. Dr Vaka thinks a cultural framework is sorely needed.
“I’m looking at all the mental health services providing for our Pacific people in South Auckland,” Dr Vaka explains. “I hope to bring the hospital system, the traditional healer and everybody in the community together to look after mental health, and not have people working in fragmentation. The idea is that everyone works together.”
This communal approach is based on the Tongan “Ūloa fishing model that requires everybody in the village to play a role”, says Dr Vaka. It will be trialled in South Auckland and he hopes it will result in Pacific mental illness sufferers seeking help earlier, lower hospital admissions – especially via emergency services – and shorter hospital stays.
Addressing the shortage of Pacific and male nurses
Dr Vaka is also vocal about New Zealand’s shortage of Pacific nurses, particularly male ones.
“We need to increase our number of Pacific staff to mirror the Pacific clients at the hospital and the health care services.”
To achieve this, he says more Pacific role models and mentors are needed in nursing, which will come with time as graduates progress into more senior positions. In the meantime, he thinks services should be more open in recruiting Pacific students and new initiatives are required to educate young people about the benefits and huge variety of career paths available in nursing.
“It’s one of the best professions in the world,” he proclaims. “You can travel with it, you get to meet a lot of people and make a lot of friends. It’s a lot of fun.”
A caring cluster that takes you wherever you want to go
A series of reports by Jan Owen and the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) explores the New Work Order we are currently facing, and how we can help young people adopt a New Work Mindset to thrive within it.
The New Work Mindset lists ‘The Carers’ as one of the seven job clusters young people should look at applying their skills and capabilities to, with a vision of being able to move through various professions within the cluster rather than concentrating on pursuing a single job for life. Read the five New Work Order reports here.
Nursing is one of the 131 jobs within this cluster. Dr Vaka says the different jobs within nursing are almost endless and his own career path is testament to this. He started nursing in Tonga before moving into mental health, hospital emergency department, psychosis intervention, teaching and now lecturing.
Research start date on the horizon
The Effectiveness of Ūloa Model trial is in its early stages, with Dr Vaka currently going through ethics and location approval with all parties involved: Auckland District Health Board, Waitemata District Health, Counties Manukau District Health and the Pacific Island Business Trust.
“I’m looking forward to hitting the ground running, working with the different services and the Pacific community,” says Dr Vaka.