Māori and Pasifika are being underdiagnosed as information uncovered has revealed antidepressant prescription rates are at an all time high.
Data released under the Official Information Act to Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint showed the rate of anti-depressants prescribed to Māori, and Pasifika was up to 34 times less than other ethnicities.
That was despite Māori and Pasifika having higher rates of mental health difficulties.
The Ministry of Health data looked at the number of anti-depressants prescribed from 2017-2020.
On average other ethnicities were given antidepressants at eight times the rate of Māori, 34 times the rate of Pasifika and 16 times the rate of Asians.
According to the latest mental health report from 2018, research showed one in three Māori and one in four Pacific people experienced mental illness compared with one in five for the total population.
In 2020 Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall released suicide statistics following the death of 654 people in the year to June 30, 2020. 157 of them were Māori.
Auckland University Te Wānanga o Waipapa, Māori and Pacific Studies co-head Jemaima Tiatia-Seath said the findings highlight institutional racism.
"There is a lack of cultural competency. New Zealand is diversifying thick and fast and yet the workforce isn't quite keeping up with that."
Auckland University Pacific health academic Collin Tukuitonga said cost and not having transport to go to the doctor are often barriers.
He also said Pasifika were also often undiagnosed and undertreated for mental health, due to cultural barriers.
"There's a prevailing view that Pacific people - particularly women - don't suffer depression or anxiety or they're not supposed to suffer depression or anxiety.
"We know from studies that Pacific Island people tend to present with physical symptoms such as a tummy ache and often they'll be treated for the tummy ache but their actual problem is a mental health disorder."
Tukuitonga said a lack of training for GPs on how to discuss mental health and pick up on the signs in Pasifika meant patients were pushed away.
"They'll come once, they have an unpleasant experience, and then they just disappear and don't come back."
Work to be done
New Zealand College of GPs medical director Dr Bryan Betty said there's a huge amount of work that has to be done as the system is still fragmented.
"A lot of GPs feel a sense of frustration and isolation in dealing with these issues," Betty said.
The latest government inquiry into mental health from 2018 was released last month, finding some progress but expressing frustration over the pace of change.
A new Independent Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission was established in response to the government inquiry into Mental Health in 2018, with goals to help improve the mental health system over the next five to 10 years.
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