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Post-tsunami focus on mental health in Samoa 

Talanoa participants in Samoa 2017.

Participants at the last Talanoa HUBBS in Samoa in 2017, including Massey School of Psychology academics and international social and indigenous psychologists.

The tenth anniversary of the 2009 quake and tsunami in Samoa is the impetus for Massey University psychologists from New Zealand and alumni from Samoa to join forces for a two-day fono (conference) in Samoa this week to discuss a range of mental health issues.

Senior lecturer and guest speaker Dr Siautu Alefaio, based at the the School of Psychology in Auckland, says the the fono will focus on post-disaster recovery and the impact on mental health in the community. Speakers based in Samoa, or part of the Samoan diaspora, will also address related issues such as how to develop community resilience, as well as solutions to escalating domestic violence.

Nearly 200 people were killed following the 8.3 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Samoa on September 29, 2009, triggering a devastating tsunami. A decade on, Dr Alefaoi says there is not enough training and development of frontline workers dealing with those still affected by the disaster.

Experiencing ongoing trauma can compound other issues, such as the prevalence of sexual abuse and domestic violence, she says. “When people are displaced, uncertain and unstable – this exacerbates underlying issues already existing in society.”

Titled Regrowth: Post-disaster healing: Psychological | Physical | Spiritual – the fono is hosted by Massey alumni Rev Dr Alesana and Lemau Palaamo who established Soul Talk Samoa, a counselling service that focuses on the local needs and supporting Samoan counsellors, pastors and youth leaders. The fono includes workshops supported by Massey experts, including Dr Jane Rovins from the School of Psychology’s Joint Centre for Disaster Research, and Samoan diaspora Dr Julia Ioane (AUT) and Sarah Mcrobie (UoA).

Dr Alefaio says the aim is to raise the issues in the context of spirituality and faith because of the influence of the church in Samoa. Encouraging church ministers to understand they have a role in addressing mental health issues by championing the cause of non-violence beyond Sunday church services is central to the messages being highlighted at the fono, she says.

Keynote speaker Samoa’s Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa is a staunch advocate for change to reduce and ultimately eliminate domestic violence in her country, Dr Alefaio says.

NIUPacH (New Indigenous Unity of Pacific Humanitarians) is a Massey Pacific research collective from the School of Psychology that organises Talanoa HUBBS (Humans United Beyond Borders Symposium), a series of fono on a range of emergency and disaster recovery themes as well as youth empowerment around the Pacific and in New Zealand.

Next year they plan to run a series of workshops in partnership with local leaders from around the Pacific on solutions to domestic violence, including awareness and training of trauma counselling and education, and the role of church leaders in the prevention and intervention of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

The fono and workshops in Samoa will be held on September 26-27, coinciding with Mental Health Awareness Week (September 23-29) in New Zealand, and commemorating 10 years since the tsunami.

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