New mental health service to aid Pacific communities

Members of the community and Pacific Trust Otago gather for the launch of the new Ke Tatala...
Members of the community and Pacific Trust Otago gather for the launch of the new Ke Tatala Mental Health Service yesterday. Photo: Gregor Richardson
A new mental health service hopes to "lift the dark clouds" hanging over Dunedin’s Pacific communities.

Pacific Trust Otago (PTO), in partnership with WellSouth and Ashburn Clinic, celebrated the launch of Ke Tatala Pacific Primary Mental Health and Addiction Services in Caversham yesterday.

PTO chief executive Fa’animo Elisara-Too said it was an "amazing opportunity" and she was excited to better support the wellbeing of Pacific communities.f

"For many of our Pacific people, this issue of talking about your mental state was never in the forefront.

"You wouldn’t ever dare open up about it; it’s quite a sacred taboo subject."

The service was the outcome of the Ke Tatala project, focused on finding community-driven solutions for issues relevant to Pacific communities.

"Our communities over the years have identified there was a big gap in terms of service and, of course, during Covid, it brought to the forefront a lot of the mental health issues.

"Not only with our elderly, parents, but also with our young people."

The name Ke Tatala came from the Tongan saying "ke tatala e pulonga", meaning to "lift the dark clouds".

"It was really fitting, and because the community was already familiar with the name, we thought it was beautiful to have it actually called that."

The service involved three clinicians: a fully qualified psychotherapist Sascha Scholz, a non-clinical role for welcoming clients, Michael Walker, and a cultural support facilitator, Maria Lucas. 

"Those are the key pillars of this service which provides the wraparound support for family therapy, group therapy and for individuals."

Offering a service that was easily accessible and culturally attuned, without any social or monetary barriers, was the most important thing, she said.

"Our communities are running their own version of what support around mental health looks like, from a cultural but also from a spiritual level."

The service was for mild to moderate mental health issues and doctors could refer clients to the service.

"Although it’s predominantly for Pacific, it’s open to anyone that walks in the door or that gets referred.

"They will be in good hands, in the hands of professionals."

The launch was addressed by PTO board chairman Masoe Antonio Seiulu, Rev Matalevai Laufiso, and Te Whatu Ora regional director of Pacific health in Te Waipounamu Erolia Eteuati-Rooney.