Recently, Malaefono (seminar room) was transformed into a cosy safe space, intentionally arranged for a walkthrough session with rangatahi and our Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing (YMHW) team.
As rangatahi sauntered in, each with a smile and a hug to give, the soft hum of the air condition gave way to a chilled ambience. As part of whakawhanaungatanga (connecting), introductions are made before the team dove into a lotu (prayer) to welcome our attendees into the space.
Before proceeding, Systems Innovator, Narita Vaivai, emphasises that Malaefono serves as a safe space where our rangatahi can participate without fear of judgment nor criticism, allowing them to engage fully in the walkthrough process.
In the past year, we facilitated case narrative sessions with a specific group of rangatahi. During these sessions, they openly discussed their lived experiences as Pasifika and Māori individuals, delving into the complexities of their mental health, and offering insights into their overall well-being.
The walkthrough session provided an opportunity to relay to our rangatahi the findings that the team had extracted after thoroughly reviewing the narrative sessions, case narratives, visual artefacts, and written statements.
Consequently, we discovered recurring themes of isolation, cultural stressors, inadequate access to appropriate services, as well as socioeconomic and environmental barriers.
Despite this, it’s essential to understand that mental health among Māori and Pasifika rangatahi are not the same for all. This highlights the need for a wide range of perspectives and services for effective prevention and intervention. Recognising these unique perspectives helps us better grasp the challenges our rangatahi face and the support they may require.
In addition to sharing our findings, our rangatahi also participated in “I like, I wonder, have you considered” feedback session, which prompted participants to share their thoughts and perspectives openly.
This approach allowed them to express what resonated with them (I like), what questions or curiosities they had (I wonder), and any suggestions or ideas they felt should be considered (have you considered). This not only enriched our understanding but also ensured that the rangatahi had a meaningful voice in shaping our initiative.
“I wish there was something like this walkthrough session available to me when I was in school. I think if there were, I would’ve felt more supported and heard,” says one rangatahi.
Moving forward, our goal is to utilise the insights and feedback from our rangatahi to improve our initiative as it helps us to strategise the areas where we will need to improve on. Additionally, we hope that the walkthrough session serves as a catalyst for recruiting rangatahi to become “champions” for our work.
The champions will act as advisors to our youth mental health team and advocates for youth mental health alongside stakeholders. A key part of their champion role will be to help keep stakeholders accountable for their decision-making.
In order to foster meaningful rangatahi engagement alongside stakeholders, a transformative shift in our systems is essential. As we’ve learnt through our talanoa sessions, young people are intelligent and hardworking, they are eager to have input in decision-making and policy development. However, systems change within the sector needs to take place such as establishing inclusive structures and processes aimed at enhancing collaboration with rangatahi as well as amplifying the voices of young individuals.
As suggested by young people, this involves breaking down traditional barriers, such as age-based hierarchies, and promoting co-creation and co-design approaches that empower rangatahi to contribute their perspectives, expertise, and ideas.
“Our goal is to establish a lasting network of champions dedicated to being of service to other rangatahi. Collectively, these champions will play a pivotal role in amplifying our efforts, spreading awareness about youth mental health, and fostering a supportive environment within our communities,” says Narita.