Ground-breaking response to whānau in distress

9 October 2017

Local health organisations have listened to the call for a more effective response to mental health and addiction distress that is affecting too many Tairāwhiti families.

Te Kuwatawata is a unique and groundbreaking response to that call. It has been supported by the Ministry of Health with their “Fit for Future” Innovation Funding pool. Hauora Tairāwhiti, Te Kupenga Net Trust, and Pinnacle Midlands Health Network have taken this opportunity to respond to the need of the community and provide a more effective approach to people in distress.

It is about applying indigenous mātauranga (knowledge/understanding) to reframe the way we talk about a person’s experience and to find a pathway forward for people experiencing distress, says Hauora Tairāwhiti Mental Health Head of Department Dr Diana Kopua. “The largest proportion of people affected by mental health in Tairāwhiti are Māori, so this approach really resonates.”

“Mātauranga enables us to move away from only using western ideology to categorise distress while staying critical in our thinking as health professionals. We are not abandoning western psychiatric approaches; we are just putting other principals - such as relationships and community voice - forward as an immediate response. This helps us to respond quicker, closer to where people live and most importantly this makes people and community feel connected, rather than disempowered.”

“Te Kuwatawata is a joint venture between Te Kupenga Net Trust, Pinnacle Midlands Health Network, and Hauora Tairāwhiti. It builds on a groundswell of people – Mataora (specialists in indigenous knowledge), local GPs, community groups and mental health professionals - who have been learning about using purakau (stories) to look at all the characteristics of Māori atua (deities) and how they interacted with each other,” adds Dr Kopua. “This helps us to understand our own interactions and behaviours. We call this learning Mahi a Atua.”

“We are building on changes made to local mental health services last year. The aim is to make it easier and simpler for people to access help. Our processes have been redesigned to radically improve early access to mental health services through a single entry point.”

The result of that contact may be a wananga (meeting) with whānau, a late night visit from the emergency team, or an admission to Te Whare Awhi Ora at Gisborne Hospital.”

Part of these changes was the recent opening of the Te Kuwatawata base in Peel Street. Te Kuwatawata is the gateway to help, says project manager and Te Kupenga Net Trust Manager Hine Moeke-Murray.

“It is reassuring to see Te Kuwatawata bringing together a range of providers committed to doing things very differently. Rather than one individual clinician meeting with one individual who needs help, Te Kuwatawata takes a wananga approach. Groups of clinicians will work with people and their whānau to promote early recovery and to reduce the need for hospital-based services.

“Having the new premises in Peel Street signals a new beginning. The walls are adorned with many different Māori artworks from many different mediums; a stark contrast to clinical settings.

Aside from creating a warm and welcoming environment, the artwork serves as conversation pieces and visual examples for the many stories that can assist whānau to describe their experiences.