Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

New research explores Pacific self-care and burnout amongst Pacific Peoples

Sāmoan-Niuean PhD student Asetoa Sam Pilisi Photo: Pasifika Medical Association

More than 1100 participated in a survey posing the culturally controversial question – “Is it selfish to look after yourself?”

Asetoa Sam Pilisis a University of Auckland doctoral candidate is exploring research that focuses Pacific self-care and burnout on the cost of Pacific people serving their community. 

“You have to ask the question that if you are fulfilling collective responsibilities, at what point do we stop to consider our own personal well-being. How do we search for balance?”

He said the act of ‘service’ for Pacific people tended to net cultural credits but is sometimes at the expense of other areas of their lives, including personal, physical, and mental wellbeing.

“You have to ask the question about how much is too much? What is the actual cost of serving others because that’s culturally expected, even at your own expense.”

Asetoa who is of Niuean and Samoan heritage is currently half way through his PhD research and was grateful for the support received from New Zealand’s Pasifika Medical Association (PMA), an organisation that is active in promoting and supporting Pacific health, and have partnered with University of Auckland, to grow Pacific research.

“We’re asking people to stop and take an inward look at ourselves,” a practise he acknowledged was outside of Pacific peoples’ norms because the focus is on the collective rather than the individual.

Part of the current research looks at understanding the burnout experience. Working with a community steering group has been invaluable in gauging differing perspectives.

“Our communities do understand what it means being  ‘spent or operating on an empty tank’ but for various reasons, even if on empty, when duty calls, we get up and we keep going. Our behaviour is influenced by getting up and doing awesome things,” creating a sense of pride and mana.

However, he acknowledged that for some, rising to the challenge to help others was driven by markers at the other end of the spectrum, such as shame and stigma.

Working with a steering committee from the Pacific community, Asetoa was acutely aware of posing a question that struck at the heart of Pacific cultural practice.

Some felt that he was imposing a western lens on the lived experiences of the Pacific diaspora.

“Collectively we do some beautiful stuff that supersedes at times what our individual pursuits are unable to do, but it can come at a cost, and its often not sustainable.”

“I’m grateful for the many hands and hearts involved in this research, so that means I have to show the same energy and do all the boring/hard things day in, day out!”

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