Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Talanoa with young Pacific men holds potential key to preventing suicide

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Photo: RNZ/ Sela Jane Aholelei
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Local Democracy Reporting | Free Public Interest News Service

By Kim Meredith of Local Democracy Reporting

After losing three male family members to suicide, a Pacific academic researcher wants young men to speak out when they feel that life isn’t worth living.

Shahrane’e Fa’avae, a counsellor at St Paul’s College, undertaking her Master’s research, wants to talanoa (speak) with young Pacific men aged 16-25 years of age who have attempted or thought about taking their life.

“I think their voices and their experiences are the key to lowering our suicide rates and helping our young Pasifika realise their value in this world.”

The mother of six says after carrying the loss of her 14-year-old brother who committed suicide more than three decades ago and then later a cousin, and more recently a nephew, it was time for action.

She hopes her research will stop Pacific people from continuing to suffer in silence.

“I felt I needed to do something, anything to help find ways for our young men to speak up and speak out when they feel like life isn’t worth living.”

Youth suicide rates for Pacific men sit at 19.4% per 100,000, second only to Māori. Fa’avae says there are a number of excellent suicide prevention programmes in the community but identified two main barriers.

The lack of Pacific counsellors who are accessible and available for young Pacific people and the absence of effective education on the importance of seeking professional help when life becomes stressful and overwhelming.

“Our people are still suffering in silence, hiding their pain and burdens to avoid shame.”

Fa’avae says her current role as a school counsellor allows her to connect with young men, provide a space for them to open up and share about the experiences of what they are going through, which helps to break down barriers of vulnerability and feelings of shame.

“I understand how difficult it is for people to share their darkest moments with someone, but it is my hope that I can provide a safe space where they are able to share their journey through those moments, what led them there, but most importantly, what led them out so that we can help our current and future generations of young Pasifika men.”

TYLA Trust works with at-risk tamariki and rangatahi aged from eight – 18 to help make positive choices and receives part of its programme funding from Ōtara-Papatoetoe and Manurewa Local Boards. Co-General Manager, Anastasia Meredith based at its Ōtara branch says teaching young people about resilience was a crucial skill for youth.

“Realistically a lot of young men still need support until they’re at least in their mid-twenties, there is so much they’re having to navigate and negotiate.”

Building up networks to provide support within their own communities was important during times of crisis.

“We try to make sure there’s at least one person they can be vulnerable with amongst their friends when things aren’t going well.”

She says sadly many still accepted the old adage of “boys don’t cry” and the shame of talking about mental health only added further anxiety and at times had dire consequences.

“We’ve had youth who haven’t been able to come back from relationship breakups and have taken their own lives.”

Meredith says Fa’avae’s work was important for her sector especially with the difficulty youth faced to access the available services.

Fa’avae acknowledged her research supervisor Dr Sarah Kapeli at the University of Auckland for her guidance and support, given the potential for the work to benefit across the health, social services and education sectors.

Te Whatu Ora was approached for comment on how it is aiming to improve mental health awareness messaging to the Pacific community but had not responded by the time this article went to print.
Where to find help and support:

Shine (domestic violence) – 0508 744 633
Women’s Refuge – 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE)
Need to Talk? – Call or text 1737
What’s Up – 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787)
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
Youthline – 0800 376 633, text 234, email [email protected] or online chat
Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757, or text 4202
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)



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