Henare 'emotional' during Whanganui mental health services visit

By Contributor

Mental health worker Lamon Paranihi-Haami explains aspects of new mental health and addictions service Te Korowaitia Te Puna Waiora to Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare. Photo: LDR / Supplied

By Moana Ellis, Local Democracy Reporter

The impact of Māori mental wellbeing services and a community effort to prevent suicide in Whanganui, Rangitīkei and Ruapehu left a visiting minister "quite emotional".

Minister for Whānau Ora and Associate Minister for Health Peeni Henare visited Māori health provider Te Oranganui in Whanganui last week to hear first-hand how mental wellbeing services were developing following an injection of government funding.

He heard personal stories from whānau who had been part of Korowaitia Te Puna Waiora, a new kaupapa Māori primary mental health and addictions service.

Korowaitia Te Puna Waiora has been designed to provide a "Whanganui-centric" approach to mental wellbeing for whānau experiencing mild to moderate distress.

It is part of a three-year "whole of community, whole of systems" approach to the prevention of suicide, co-designed by Te Oranganui, Healthy Families Whanganui Rangitikei Ruapehu and the former Whanganui District Health Board (now Te Whatu Ora Whanganui).

Initiatives include tāne support group Band of Brothers, wāhine support group Māreikura, and kaupapa wānanga co-designed alongside whānau who are facing mental health challenges.

Localised mātauranga approach

The minister said the stories he heard were powerful.

"Having an opportunity to listen to whānau talk about their challenges openly was quite emotional. It really did lift my heart - this is the power of what we're doing."

He said he was particularly interested to hear from kaimahi/mental health workers about the localised mātauranga approach to partnering with whānau to achieve their mental wellbeing aspirations and address systemic issues facing whānau.

"The cookie-cutter model doesn't work," he told the providers. "I see the unique way you are supporting your whānau. It's local, it's unique and it has evolved.

"It is something quite special to see the mahi evolving. I see that the hard effort so many people are putting in is worth it. It is fantastic to see and I'm really excited about what's next."

Intervening early

The government's 2019 Wellbeing Budget invested more than $450 million into creating new frontline services for mental health, suicide prevention and addiction.

Henare visited Whanganui as part of a national tour of new kaupapa Māori services set up to improve access for Māori experiencing mild to moderate mental wellbeing challenges.

He told Local Democracy Reporting those challenges had since been compounded by Covid-19.

"We haven't fully realised the impact of Covid-19 on our communities. We know that the challenges and the impacts - such as increased anxiety - continue to materialise.

"If we can intervene in a positive way earlier on, this may reduce the need for acute services, which is a challenge at the moment."

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air