Scholarship for Maori mental health studies

The Otago University Students' Association has disaffiliated with the Elohim Bible Academy. Photo...
The University of Otago. Photo: ODT files
An eminent psychiatrist has lent his name to a scholarship which will hopefully help tackle "institutional racism" in the mental health system, a University of Otago Maori leader says.

A master's level scholarship geared specifically towards Maori students interested in mental health and addiction has been announced at the university, and students studying a range of fields - anything from psychiatry to social work - can apply.

It is named after psychiatrist Emeritus Prof Sir Mason Drurie, of Massey University, and the first recipient will be given the scholarship next year.

Office of Maori Development director Tuari Potiki, who is also national chairman of the NZ Drug Foundation, said the scholarship would be jointly funded by the university and national Maori health provider Te Rau Matatini, who would each contribute $7500.

Since the university would also be waiving the recipient's fees, the scholarship was worth $21,000 in total.

Otago alumnus Sir Mason, an architect of Whanau Ora, was involved in the latest mental health inquiry despite being in his 80s and was "the gift that keeps on giving", Mr Potiki said.

There were few Maori addiction services nationally, and none in Dunedin, and one of the goals of the scholarship was to get more Maori into the field.

"There is a whole kaupapa Maori approach to treating addictions which is effective for many Maori as it incorporates Maori beliefs and world views into treatment," Mr Potiki said.

The recent report "He Ara Oranga: Report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction" highlighted some of these issues and provided some ideas as to how to improve things, he said.

According to the report, the prevalence of mental distress was almost 50% higher for Maori than it was for non-Maori.

However, Maori were 30% more likely than non-Maori to go undiagnosed and were subject to greater use of compulsory treatment and seclusion.

Mr Potiki said societal issues impacted on the mental health of Maori, such as higher rates of poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, sexual and physical abuse, and homelessness.

"Institutional racism" also affected Maori with mental health problems, he said.

There were professionals who were "a little bit scared of or they don't know how to deal with Maori", so they overcompensated by overprescribing.

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