Samoa needs to address mental health

By The Editorial Board 27 March 2023, 6:00AM

One can only imagine what the people including children went through on the fateful day in 2009 when a wall of water came rushing at them and took away the lives of loved ones.

The survivors themselves still to date are dealing with the trauma of the tsunami. Just over three weeks ago, 30 people were in a bus in Fagaloa which overturned. That was a traumatic experience as well.

These traumatic experiences affect people and many require psychotherapy to deal with such situations. It is good to see a Samoan model being developed by two academics which involves the use of art in dealing with trauma.

It is indeed a unique method and hopefully that the findings of their study does well to elevate the status of mental health in the country and how our health system can incorporate it into every day diagnosis. There is very little recognition given to mental health in Samoa.

In Samoa, someone with mental health illnesses are either ignored or brushed aside by the society by saying ‘he has gone nuts’.

Mental health is described as a state of well-being where a person is able to cope with the normal stresses of life. This state permits productive work output and allows for meaningful contributions to society.

Don’t we want this for Samoa? A more productive society and a society where all aspects of health, both mental and physical are looked after.

We all know that different circumstances exist that may affect the ability to handle life’s curveballs. These factors may also disrupt daily activities, and the capacity to manage these changes. That is why mental health should be a priority for the health system and even for the education sector.

Our children are faced with difficulties every day and it has been exacerbated by social media.

When a child is subjected to physical assault, sexual violence, emotional abuse, or neglect while growing up, it can lead to severe mental and emotional distress.

Abuse increases the risk of developing mental disorders like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or personality disorders.

Children who have been abused may eventually deal with alcohol and substance use issues. But beyond mental health challenges, child abuse may also lead to medical complications such as diabetes, stroke, and other forms of heart disease.

Now the question is, do we have the facilities to deal with this. Do we as a society recognise this in our children and what is being done to address the issue?

It is not only our children who are affected. We have just started to get back to normal. Samoa had been shut for more than two years because of measles and the coronavirus. Studies have shown that people have been affected by this.

Our society does not identify depression, anxiety and stress as mental health issues when they clearly are. Samoa needs a robust change in its health service delivery because it should contain measures to deal with mental health issues properly.

Our leaders have been taking to the world stage and talking about climate change. There have been studies by the United Nations and even the International Crescent of the Red Cross which shows that climate change has also impacted the mental health status of people in the Pacific, and Samoa is no different.

Our own and one and only psychiatrist Seiuliali'i Dr. George Tuitama has said the reality with the mental health unit is that we know now that there is a lot of support needed. But when we try to rally up this support and put words and plans into action, there are very few that would actually give this support and help.

He said that we don't get the support we need locally.

"It (mental health) is part of health and it's time to start giving it equal importance as every other area of health," Seiuliali'i said.

Physical health gets plenty of attention, and for good reason. A healthy body can prevent conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, and help you maintain independence as you age.

Mental health is just as important as physical health, and shouldn’t be neglected.

According to the World Health Organisation, depression is one of the leading causes of disability. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. People with severe mental health conditions die prematurely – as much as two decades early – due to preventable physical conditions.

WHO said that despite progress in some countries, people with mental health conditions often experience severe human rights violations, discrimination, and stigma.

WHO said their research showed that many mental health conditions can be effectively treated at relatively low cost, yet the gap between people needing care and those with access to care remains substantial. Effective treatment coverage remains extremely low.

As the world’s leading body on health they have recommended an increased investment is required on all fronts: for mental health awareness to increase understanding and reduce stigma; for efforts to increase access to quality mental health care and effective treatments; and for research to identify new treatments and improve existing treatments for all mental disorders.

Come on Samoa, we can do this for a better future.

By The Editorial Board 27 March 2023, 6:00AM
Samoa Observer

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