National group aims to address inequalities in mental health for Maori

Delft Klootwyk and Tui Taurua are members of the Te Huarahi O Te Kete Pounamu Maori mental health group.
MARTIN DE RUYTER

Delft Klootwyk and Tui Taurua are members of the Te Huarahi O Te Kete Pounamu Maori mental health group.

For both Tui Taurua and Delft Klootwyk,​ being connected to their Maori culture was a crucial part of learning to live with mental illness. 

Both work in the mental health sector, and have the benefit of knowing what it was like to access mental health services.

Taurua and Klootwyk are part of a national group, Huarahi O Te Kete Pounamu, which aims to improve outcomes for Maori with mental health issues. 

Klootwyk grew up in Nelson and at times struggled with his identity. Born Maori he was adopted by a Dutch father and a Scottish mother. 

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He was 15 when he was first admitted to Nelson's Ngawhatu Hospital. 

"If you weren't crazy when you went in there, you sure were when you left."

Klootwyk recalls spending close to two months in seclusion, his family unable to visit him. 

"That does have an effect on your hinengaro, your mind and so the reality is we all have the capability of being unwell in our minds."

He was in his late teens when he became more aware of his Maori heritage and he connected with his aunt, Naida Glavish, a former Maori Party president.

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He said understanding his culture was crucial to understanding his mental illness.

"I had to untangle that, it has only taken me 30 years," he said. 

Yet Delft was also thankful for his European upbringing.

"I have the privilege to see the two worlds and I see them in a unifying way I don't see the divisiveness that others may."

He said it was important to acknowledge the people the group represented were no different to anyone else.

"We expect no different treatment, but it is our uniqueness as Maori that we do want to allow people to see," he said. 

"That uniqueness still needs to be appreciated as it affects our wellness, in a way that it doesn't affect non-Maori people."

The group have a focus on ensuring the voice of tangata whaiora, people seeking health, was heard.

"The reality is Maori are still disproportionately represented in mental health issues and health issues in general," Klootwyk said.

It's initial focus would be on the use of seclusion, the de-escalation and use of restraint practices by frontline staff as well as the compulsory treatment order. 

Tui Taurua is from Kaikohe and was in Nelson to speak about Huarahi O Te Kete Pounamu at the biennial Maori Mental Health Nursing conference at the Whakatu marae.

The name translates as the pathway of the flax basket and the greenstone and Taurua carries a piece of pounamu in a kete as she travels around the country.

"The pounamu is us and the kete represents the mahi (work) that we do," she said.

The pounamu also helped people understand what it meant to be Maori.

Taurua recalls when she was first admitted to hospital for mental health care in 1977. 

"When I first came into the psychiatric environment, I didn't even know what Maori was, there was nothing for Maori and I knew something was missing but I didn't know what it was," she said.

"I lived with suicide on my shoulder for 20 years." 

She quit her job, took time for herself to figure things out.

"That is when I came out with rapua te hinengaro tangata toa, which is seek the mind of a warrior, that there helped me connect back into what it was to be Maori." 

Taurua used to talk to people about what it meant to be Maori as her recovery, she knows how to look after herself using Maori models of practice. She was last hospitalised 15 byears ago and no longer has suicidal thoughts.

Since 1995 she has been working in the mental health sector and while things had improved, there was still a lot that needed to change. 

Klootwyk said they came together as a national group to speak on behalf of those who couldn't and wanted to find a better way to wellness.

"That's why we are here today, to make a difference to Maori," Taurua said.

"We have to make a difference, we need their voices to be heard."

 - Stuff

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