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Maori Mental Health

  The Maori philosophy towards health is based on a wellness or holistic health model. Maori see health as a four-sided concept representing four basic beliefs of life: Te Taha Hinengaro (psychological health), Te Taha Wairua (spiritual health), Te Taha Tinana (physical health) and Te Taha Whanau (family health).

This is known as Te Whare Tapa Wha.

The Whare Tapa Wha can be applied to any health issue affecting Maori from physical to psychological wellbeing.

The following dimensions of Te Whare Tapa Wha are described below:

Wairua/Spirituality - is acknowledged to be the most essential requirement for health. It is believed that without a spiritual awareness an individual can be considered to be lacking in wellbeing and more prone to ill health. Wairua may also explore relationships with the environment, between people, or with heritage. The breakdown of this relationship could be seen in terms of ill health or lack of personal identity. When confronted with a problem Maori do not seek to analyse its separate components or parts but ask in what larger context it resides, incorporating ancestors or future generations to discussions. This may mean the discussion goes off on a tangent but the flow will return to the question.

Hinengaro/Psychic - thoughts, feelings and behaviour are vital to health in Te Ao Maori (the Maori world). Maori may be more impressed with unspoken signals, eye movement, bland expressions, and in some cases regard words as superfluous, even demeaning. Maori thinking can be can be described as being holistic. Understanding occurs less by dividing things into smaller and smaller parts. Healthy thinking for a Maori person is about relationships. The individual whose first thought is about putting themselves, their personal ambitions and their needs first, without recognising the impact that it may have on others is considered unhealthy. Communication through emotions is important and more meaningful than the exchange of words and is valued just as much, for example, if Maori show what they feel, instead of talking about their feelings, this is regarded as healthy.

Tinana/Physical - is the most familiar component to all of us. For Maori the body and things associated with it are Tapu (sacred/special). There is a clear separation between sacred and common. For instance the head is regarded as tapu and Maori do not pat each other on the head, nor should food be anywhere near a persons head. When this happens it can be perceived as unhealthy. Hairbrushes should not be placed on tables nor should hats.

Food is kept away from the body and so are utensils. A common thing that is observed in Maori households is that tea-towels are not placed in a washing machine but always washed by hand. Kitchen sinks/tubs should not be used to wash personal items either. When a laundry is in close proximity to the kitchen this can pose problems as well.

There is also the question of personal space to take into account. Maori consider stepping over someone as rude and demeaning to that person's mana (personal authority/power). However there are different ways in which respect is shown to another person. For example Maori tend to have minimal eye contact and respect each other's space in formal situations. Body language is also an important feature to note.

Whanau/Family - is the prime support system providing care, not only physically but also culturally and emotionally. For Maori, whanau is about extended relationships rather than the western nuclear family concept. Maintaining family relationships is an important part of life and caring for young and old alike is paramount. Everyone has a place and a role to fulfil within their own whanau. Families contribute to a person's wellbeing and most importantly a person's identity. A Maori viewpoint of identity of identity derives much from family characteristics. It is important to understand that a person carrying an ancestral name will often be seen as having the qualities of their namesake.

It is important to be aware for Maori, a persons identity is gleaned by asking "Where are you from" rather than "What is your name?" Maori identity is based upon an ancestral Waka (canoe) a physical landmark, which is usually a Maunga (mountain), a body of water Awa (river), Moana (sea) and a significant Tupuna (ancestor). Once this is known people can share a common bond.

Check out these websites for more info on Maori Health and connections to good Maori web resources:
Also check out Maori Mental Health | Pacifica Mental Health | About Us
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