#BlackLivesMatter and how it relates to improving Māori mental health

A simple breakdown of what Black Lives Matter means, here in New Zealand and why it matters to the mental health and wellbeing of our communities.

#BlackLivesMatter and how it relates to improving Māori mental health

One of the things I've learnt over the last 10 years of trying to push for change is that change is often generational, and that is why it takes such a long time.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement has been many years in the making. However, the marches happening all across the world does mark a shift in social consciousness. Primarily led by young people fed up with the status quo, the movement in the United States now calls for policies to "Defund the Police".

For most, when you first saw the slogan, you might find it hard to understand and even have a gut reaction that it is not right. That's expected, I did too. We have been trained to associate the police with having a sense of security and safety. So it feels wrong to see the police in any other light. The truth though, is the police means different things to different people. There is no denying that even in Aotearoa NZ, unconscious bias exists within the police in relation to racial profiling and structural discrimination.

We need to be having more courageous conversations about how colonisation affects people of colour, especially Māori. In the New Zealand context, it means Indigenous people, who make up 15% of the general population, disproportionately make up 50% of the prison population.

Don't get me wrong. The police are key to our social fabric and they need to be funded to be able to do their job well. I live out in South Auckland, in Manurewa, and during the lockdown, I had to call the police. My neighbour sounded like she was a victim of a bad case of domestic violence and I was genuinely worried about her safety. The police came by almost 2 hours later, as apparently there were 3 other domestic violence call outs just on my street alone.

Which comes to the core message of Defund The Police. It asks the question of why is it in a case of domestic violence, the only first responder is the police? Where is the social worker? The psychologist? The cultural worker? How can we leave each encounter with a family, more equipped to deal with their challenges than before? This lies at the heart of the problem, which is there needs to be a re-balancing of funding going towards investing in people instead. Our Crisis teams, are overwhelmed, underfunded, and we can't get enough people to fill these roles fast enough to deal with the number of mental health referrals they receive.

The wellbeing of our communities is related to the wider social determinants of health. I.e. People's mental health are shaped to a great extent by the social, economic, and physical environments in which they live. Investing in the education, mental health support and employment of an individual provides an outsize impact on the opportunities available to empower people to choose their own course in life and begin to heal the trauma inflicted over many generations. It is only when our solutions are integrated and holistic can we even begin to address the inequities that exist.

Part of my issue with "Defund the Police" is the message is incomplete and lead to 2 antagonistic camps "Anti-Police" and "Pro-Police". #DefundThePolice should also be quickly followed by #FundSocialWorkers #FundMoreTherapy #InvestInEducation, you get the point. A clear call with solutions on how to re-balance funding allocated, will always be more palatable to engage in than simply decrying the problem.

We are on the right track. The Government's Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction and the NZ Health and Disability System Review both shows the importance of investing in primary and community services. As well as honouring Te Tiriti partnership and the sovereignity of Māori to develop more kaupapa Māori services, in order to directly tackle the institutional racism that exists within our health system. The devil is now in the detail and our ability to innovate and execute. To be brave and take a chance on investing in people and solutions that aren't just the same-old, same-old. That is why we too have marches for #BlackLivesMatter in NZ. It is more than just solidarity, it is a rejection of the status quo.

If you or anyone you know needs a bit of support with their mental health and wellbeing. Clearhead is an online, one-stop-shop, mental health platform that can help them begin their journey of understanding their challenges better and getting the help they need.

Be the change you want to see in the world. The conversation we are having now is hard, but at least we are having it. That's progress.