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Maori Suicide Prevention Symposium Seeks Answers

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A two-day symposium being held in Wellington next month will address the continuing over-representation of Māori in New Zealand suicide statistics.

"Culture and Suicide Prevention in Aotearoa" has been organised by Suicide Prevention Information New Zealand (SPINZ) to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10.

The symposium will draw on both local and international expertise in highlighting suicide risk factors unique to indigenous populations.

Mason Durie, Professor of Māori Research and Development at Massey University, will speak to the importance of "whanau-centred" approaches to counselling, community development and suicide prevention.

Dr Tracy Westerman, an internationally-recognised authority on Aboriginal and indigenous mental health, will discuss the range of initiatives in Australia that have worked to acknowledge the cultural experiences of indigenous populations in the treatment of mental illness. Her Aboriginal Mental Health Cultural Competency Test is now in use by over 2,000 practitioners across Australia.

"There is a role for both cultural and clinical interventions within any indigenous population, but you need to understand culture extremely well in order to determine the point at which a clinical approach is indicated and vice versa," Dr Westerman explains.

"For example - at the practice level, if I am working with an Aboriginal client who presents with spiritual visits of a deceased loved one, I need to fully understand psychosis in order to determine whether the illness is bound within culture or whether the person is experiencing a clinical disorder.

"There are numerous examples in which clinical and cultural skills collide when working with indigenous people. You need to be able to operate in both frameworks to be effective with indigenous people."

Rates of suicide in New Zealand have been declining since 1998. Maori rates of suicide have also declined, but have not matched a trend of decreases in the general population. Indigenous populations tend to be over-represented in suicide statistics worldwide.

"Suicide is viewed differently across cultures," says Merryn Statham, Director of SPINZ. "This needs to be taken into consideration when working with individuals at risk, their families, and communities. We're bringing a wide range of groups together to share their knowledge in this area.

"One of our main aims this year is to show that clinical and culturally-based models of care each have their own strengths. Service providers which specialise in each can strengthen suicide prevention work across the sector by working more closely together."

The full two-day programme of presentations can be viewed online at:

Media are welcome to attend. Please use the online registration form:

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