Today is World Suicide Prevention Day and it is also the beginning of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori: Māori Language Week. To mark this day, Hāpai Te Hauora and the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) have joined together to raise awareness about the positive influence of te reo Māori on mental health and wellbeing.
"We know that connection to one’s identity and culture are protective factors in terms of mental health and wellbeing," Janell Dymus-Kurei, Hāpai Te Hauora General Manager - Māori Public Health says. "We strongly support Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori because it reflects our commitment to ensuring the wellbeing of all whānau in a way that is appropriate and culturally safe, not just for Te Wiki o Te Reo, but everyday."
Research has shown that having a strong connection to Māoritanga, including confidence with Te Reo Māori, is associated with a lower risk of suicide for Māori.
"To prevent suicide in Aotearoa, we must start thinking about what makes us stronger, what protects us, what helps us to overcome tough times," MHF chief executive Shaun Robinson says.
"Then, we need to invest in those things. Māori Language Week is an opportunity to celebrate Te Reo and acknowledge it as something that’s not just nice to have, but a critical tool in our kete to strengthen whānau WHICH could go a long way to contribute to making a positive difference in our suicide statistics."
Both Hāpai Te Hauora and the Mental Health Foundation believe mental health services in Aotearoa are seriously underfunded and inadequate both in scope and resourcing. To create meaningful change in the most in-need communities, there needs to be investment in early support not just crisis services. We need to support people before they reach breaking point.
Māori are disproportionately affected by suicide. In the latest provisional suicide statistics, the Māori suicide rate was 23.72 per 100,000, compared to 13.76 per 100,000 for the whole population.
"If we are serious about improving the experience of our whānau who are affected by mental health issues, we need to recognise that different approaches are needed." Ms Dymus-Kurei says,
"Mauri Ora, a concept which doesn’t directly translate to English but which broadly speaks to the idea of holistic wellbeing, is central to a Māori perspective of health and our mental health services need to appreciate this. In Te Ao Māori, health is not a biological concept alone, it encompasses a person’s emotional, social and spiritual needs and if our approach to mental health issues was responsive to this idea, we believe it would be much more equitable and effective for Māori."
This is where te reo Māori has a role to play. By celebrating and promoting the use of te reo rangatira, we will help strengthen whānau, wairua and community.
Nō reira e hoa mā, kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawanui. Keep strong, have courage, commitment and determination to support whānau and friends through difficult times.
"We must remember that suicide is preventable," Mr Robinson says. "Yes, we need better services, and we also need to support resilient, thriving people. Cultural identity is vital to that and celebrating Māori Language Week is exactly the kind of step we need to take in order to contribute meaningfully to preventing suicide and ensuring our communities thrive."
He mauri te reo Māori nō Aotearoa māu , mā tātou katoa.
Make Te Reo Māori an essential part of New Zealand for you, for us all.