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Impact and response to the loss of Te Aka Whai Ora

Impact and response to the loss of Te Aka Whai Ora

With the current political climate in Aotearoa, even worldwide its hard not to feel mamae, pouri or even under siege. On one hand we are seeing a mass movement of people advocating and standing up and expressing their desire for collective liberation. While on the other hand we are watching people in positions of power systematically deny people their basic human rights and use their power to push agendas that maintain the status quo.

As tangata, especially those who may not be in the throes of it, but are active bystanders watching an unravelling of dignity, its hard not to be impacted.

I this week have felt the heavy burden of the dis-establishment of Te Aka Whau Ora in Aotearoa. The evidence for its creation and necessity from a systemic level, right down to the everyday realities is very apparent. Our experts spoke truth, provided unquestionable evidence and begun to build an approach that focused on equitable outcomes.

Te Aka Whai Ora provided hope of interweaving and increasing access to many aspects of health. Including responses to mental health and wellbeing - responses that would have been led by our cultural norms, ways of being and healing.

I know first hand personally, and professionally the lacking in responses to someone not being “mentally well”. Its more then not individual, western driven, riddled with bias and racism. A real lack luster system. Don’t get me wrong their are pockets of great work and the exceptions, but I am talking about the norm.

Some of the fallout of a generic health care system within a colonized world.

Limited Access to Culturally Competent Care: Māori often face barriers in accessing mental healthcare that is culturally sensitive and appropriate. Racism within healthcare systems can result in a lack of understanding or respect by mental health staff who struggle to acknowledge, use or support beliefs, practices, and healing traditions.

Underfunded and Understaffed Services: Racism within healthcare funding and resource allocation can result in underfunded and understaffed mental health services in Māori communities. This lack of resources leads to long wait times, limited treatment options, and insufficient support for individuals and whanau dealing with mental health issues.

Misdiagnosis and Overmedication: Cultural biases and stereotypes within healthcare systems can contribute to misdiagnosis and overmedication of Māori with mental health conditions. With a tendency to revert to medication then talking therapies. This can lead to inappropriate treatment plans and exacerbation of mental health symptoms.

Trauma and Historical Injustices: Racism within healthcare can trigger and compound trauma related to historical injustices experienced by Māori, such as colonization, forced assimilation, and intergenerational trauma. Lack of acknowledgment and sensitivity to this trauma can impede healing and recovery processes.

Stigma and Discrimination: Racism within healthcare perpetuates stigma and discrimination against Māori seeking mental health support. Fear of judgment and mistreatment may prevent individuals from disclosing their struggles or seeking help, further isolating them and exacerbating their mental health challenges.

Cultural Disconnection and Loss of Identity: Racist healthcare practices can contribute to a sense of cultural disconnection and loss of identity among Māori seeking mental health support. Lack of culturally relevant care can undermine someone’s sense of belonging and exacerbate feelings of alienation and isolation.

In our haerenga towards fostering a more inclusive and equitable mental health care system, it's crucial to confront the reality of racism and discrimination that indigenous peoples face within these spaces. By shedding light on these issues, we aim to validate the experiences of users, support networks of users and kaimahi within the mental health system and ignite a collective resistance against injustice.

Whakaaro for Users and Support People: To those navigating the complexities of the mental health system, we offer solidarity and empowerment - kia kaha. Your experiences are valid, and no one has the right to diminish your mana or make you feel less than. Hold your head high, embrace your mana, speak your reo, and stand firm in your whakapapa. Trust your pūmanawa, your gut feeling, and know that you are not alone. Find people to tautoko you where needed.

Things in your power:

  • Know your rights
  • Seek culturally competent providers or request them.
  • Advocate for yourself (I know this one can be hard)
  • Build a support network
  • Seek Second opinions if you don’t like the first one.
  • Korero to and about your experiences - they matter.

Whakaaro for Kaimahi: Whether you identify as Māori or tauiwi, as workers within the mental health care system, we have a responsibility to challenge and dismantle racism in all its forms. It starts with acknowledging and calling out instances of racism within our teams. We must actively advocate for change and reflect on our own practices to ensure that they align with principles of cultural competence and humility. Let us commit ourselves to creating a more inclusive and respectful environment for all individuals seeking mental health support.

Things in your power:

  • Education yourself
  • Listen and amplify Māori voices.
  • Advocate for culturally competent care or find out what that means.
  • Challenge racism and bias.
  • Support Māori led initiatives
  • Engage in Allyship
  • Reflect on power and privilege (this includes us as Māori)
  • Promote inclusive policies, examine the intersectionality of policies.
  • Engage the communities you work with.
  • Stay committed and persistent.


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