Preventing Tongan youth suicide

23 May, 2017
PhD student, Aulola Fuka-Lino, at AUT South Campus

AUT research students launch New Zealand’s first evidence-based resource for Pacific suicide prevention.

Tongan Youth Suicide Prevention in Aotearoa was developed in collaboration between researchers at AUT and the University of Auckland, with funding from the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

The information resource provides an ethnic-specific approach to understanding and addressing suicide prevention for Tongan youth in New Zealand.

AUT PhD student, Aulola Fuka-Lino, led the resource development project.

The content draws from the work of Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath, a senior lecturer in Pacific Studies at Auckland University and author of Suicide Prevention for Tongan Youth in New Zealand.

Key risk factors for suicide include ‘the pressures’ associated with familial obligation, financial strain, living up to high expectations, achieving elitist sporting status and walking between two worlds.

Tongan youth in New Zealand have to navigate their way between two or more ethnic identities. This tension contributes to feelings of alienation and disconnect. It also fosters resentment and anger towards parents who don’t understand the difficulty of balancing western expectations with Tongan traditions.

Dr Tiatia-Seath says Tongan youth suicide prevention must be inclusive of the family.
“Open and consistent communication within the family is key. Young people need to talk about issues and families need to be equipped with safe messaging around suicide.

Maintaining regular check-ups among family members saves lives,” she says.

The information resource outlines the Heilala Malu Tongan Framework for Suicide Prevention – an approach that is meaningful and effective for Tongans, encompassing ofa (love, compassion, care and kindness), toka’i (respect), loto lelei (humility and open-mindedness) and fetauhi’aki (respectful relationships).

This framework is symbolised by Tonga’s national flower, traditionally reserved for the King and those of chiefly rank. The heilala reflects the beauty and elegance of the framework, and the value of life itself.

Tongan Youth Suicide Prevention in Aotearoa will be launched at AUT South Campus this evening. The four-page leaflet will be distributed by Le Va, community groups and stakeholders. It is available in both Tongan and English language.

The Vakatele Pacific Research Network at South Campus is pleased to see a practical outcome from its research students.

Fuka-Lino, who is undertaking a Doctor of Philosophy, says more ethnic-specific resources are required for community health promotion and practice.

“We wanted to create something relevant to the Tongan community that would raise awareness of a sensitive issue. And, this is a good starting point. If it benefits a family or individual, then we have done our job,” she says.

In New Zealand, there are approximately 500 suicide deaths each year. Pacific peoples, particularly those aged 12-18 years, are three times more likely to attempt suicide.

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