Polynesian Perspectives

Pacific people talk about their experiences with mental illness by Vito Malo

This study was commissioned by the Mental Health Commission and has some interesting thoughts.


Author’s Note:

I am a twenty-six year old New Zealand-born Samoan journalist, diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder. I was interviewed for this paper and then asked to do some of the remaining interviews and to write this paper for the Mental Health Commission. I saw it as a good opportunity and it has become an educational journey for me.

This is a topic that I am passionate about, and although it was  extremely difficult to do so, I have done my very best to separate myself and my opinions from ruling over the experiences of the other seven consumers who took part in the interviews. I have tried to do justice to all who took part in this project, and hope to be forgiven if I have fallen short of doing so, but this paper is based upon my own experiences, as well as theirs.

One of the biggest lessons I learned when first being admitted to hospital was that this was not just happening to me. That realisation has taken on even more truth after hearing the individual stories of seven other survivors of mental illness.

There are strong links between Pacific Islanders, and the similarities in our perceptions of the spiritual world around us, but each Pacific nation has its own customs, traditions and rules of conduct. We are not all New Zealand born. We are not Maori. Therefore we do not expect to be treated according to others’ values and traditions. To even group Pacific Islanders into one group is a tough ask. The similarities between Pacific cultures are many, but the differences are far greater.

The people of the Pacific Islands are a great people, a people that I am proud to call myself a part of. We are quiet and reserved when treated with the respect that we as humans deserve. But too often we are also quiet and reserved when we are ill-treated. We Pacific Island consumers are all on the road to recovery. 

To read more please download the attached PDF.