Wāhine Māori MPs reveal the impact of their jobs on their mental wellbeing

By Whatitiri Te Wake

It's Mental Health Awareness Week and the fierce wāhine Māori in Parliament have been talking about what it's like to work as a politician in Aotearoa. Maori women MP's have long served the people in the halls of power - but at what cost?

Debbie Ngarewa Packer is no stranger to threats from white supremacists. She says although this impacts her mental well being, she remains strong in her convictions.

“We should never be normalising the experience of kaikiritanga (racism) and underestimate its impact on us,” she says.

“We've really got to talk about it and talk about the fact that ... just stop! You making me feel at threat and making me feel unwell and continue to share what that experience does to us”

Green co-leader Mārama Davidson says it's tough and she understands this is the nature of the job but says threats and hate should not be accepted

“Sometimes they have gotten so bad that I really needed to take some time and have a tangi to my amazing beautiful tāne.”

Personal attacks not acceptable

“We accept that it's part of the mahi and part of the job to be in a public position. But I think that all our people around Aotearoa should all agree that it's not acceptable for anybody to receive those sorts of personal attacks. I think we can keep politicians to account without those personal attacks.”

Nanaia Mahuta has been an MP for 25 years - a good quantity of time she says to employ good strategies to keep herself well.

"Ka noho tuturu ahau ki nga tuāpapa o ngā mātāpono o ngā mātua tūpuna o te kāinga. Ka hoki au ki ngā wai o te kāinga, ngā hau o te kāinga kei reira taku oranga."

"I remain true to the foundations and principles of my ancestors. I return to the winds and waters of home and it is here that I find sustenance," she says

“Ko taku mihi ki ngā kanohi hou, ngā mema hou o tēnei whare he maha ngā piki me ngā heke engari ahakoa tērā, me ū.

I acknowledge all the new faces and MPs because they’ll experience many successes and challenges. We do our best to persevere."

More changes needed

The government has just in the last week announced how it will tackle the mental health inequities for whanau.

It includes a $400,000 boost to improve rangatahi mental health and also a 10-year strategy, “Kia Manawanui”, a first of its kind with an aim of breaking barriers and commitment to improving mental health outcomes

Minister Davidson welcomes the strategy but she says that there are still issues like the Misuse of Drugs act that impact on rangatahi Māori mental wellbeing.

“There are still some changes that are not being met in that strategy and those are the changes that we will continue to keep pushing.”