Mental health not getting enough attention in the Pacific

The low priority given to mental health by governments in the Pacific means that specialised mental health care is sorely inadequate in the region, says a mental health adviser.

Margaret Eastgate, Regional Youth and Mental Health Project Coordinator at the Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific International, made this statement when she addressed youth delegates during a session on promoting healthy lifestyles at the 2nd Pacific Youth Festival held in Suva, Fiji, last week (11–18 July 2009).


The scarcity of formal statistics on the number of people suffering from mental illness around the region was an example of the lack of commitment to mental health by governments, she said.

‘Even where mental health care services do exist, access is limited due to geographical location and the need for transport to get to these centres,’ Ms Eastgate said.



She said mental health could not be viewed in isolation of the social, economic and political climates of the region.  The causes of mental disorders could also be attributed to poverty levels, further exacerbated by unemployment, substance abuse and suicide as experienced by young people in the Pacific.


Youth delegates attending the session were particularly touched by one speaker, Mr Gary Rounds, president of Youth Champs for Mental Health in Fiji, who spoke about his own experience in facing mental illness and depression.


Mr Rounds admitted that when he was diagnosed with severe depression, he was more scared of the stigma attached to the illness than of the condition itself.


‘I thought about how people would approach me, socialise with me or judge me,’ he said.

He recalled how he became severely depressed when he was 19 after a bad breakup and his mother’s death.

‘I tried to brush it aside by drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana to excess,’ Mr Rounds said. ‘I lost faith in myself and thought that alcohol and drugs would take away all my bad thoughts and self-pity.’

He realised he needed help after attempting to commit suicide and voluntarily admitted himself to Fiji’s St. Giles Psychiatric Hospital for treatment.


‘Through the support of my family, friends and workmates I recovered in three months,’ Mr Rounds said.

He believes mental health has been given too little attention in the Pacific and hopes his story will bring about positive change in young people’s lives, especially those experiencing mental illness.


A youth delegate from American Samoa, Taufauomato Tumulialifo, 25, said Mr Round’s presentation had inspired her to encourage young people to speak up about the issue.


‘I’m glad to know that Mr Rounds got help to recover from his condition because back home, mental health resources are limited – we have just one certified nurse and psychiatrist,’ she said.


Tuvalu delegate, Maryanne Kafolau, 19, said she was touched by a poem Mr Rounds recited about the challenges he faced while ill. The poem urges young people to ‘keep on walking’ against the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness.


‘I feel empowered by Mr Rounds being able to speak about his experiences so openly because in Tuvalu we do not have a hospital for patients with mental illness and no workshops of this kind for people to speak openly about it,’ Miss Kafolau said.


Vanuatu delegate, Morrison Daniel, 24, says it was good to hear the experiences of someone who had actually gone through mental illness and recovered from it.


‘I will definitely be encouraging young people to talk about mental illness when I go back to Vanuatu as listening and sharing information with someone who has gone through the experience is different from speaking to a doctor,’ Mr Daniel said.


‘Mr Rounds experience has given us guidance and direction on how to deal with this issue back home.’


Photo caption:Gary Rounds (right) speaking to a delegate at the Pacific Youth Festival.

For more information please contact Rose Maebiru, SPC Human Development Adviser (Youth) by phone: +687 260 197 or email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or Tione Chinula, Human Development Programme Advocacy and Communications Officer by phone: +687 260 157 or email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



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