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Asetoa Sam Pilisi shares gratitude for the immense response to his call out.

Photo/Pasifika Medical Association

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Is self-care selfish? Over 1100 NZ-born Pacific people answer the call

It's Men's Health Week and Sāmoan-Niuean PhD student Asetoa Sam Pilisi says Pacific men need to be more proactive managing their stress and health.

Vaimaila Leatinu'u
Aui'a Vaimaila Leatinu'u
Published
10 June 2024, 11:41am
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A researcher who is exploring Pacific self-care and burnout has received over 1,100 staggering responses to his "loaded" question last year: "Is it selfish to look after yourself?"

The Take Care Pacific Survey, which closed two months ago, was led by Auckland University PhD student Asetoa Sam Pilisi (Alofi North and Avatele of Niue, Sato'alepai and Vailoa Palauli of Sāmoa) and was aimed towards New Zealand-born Pacific peoples.

Asetoa spoke with Will Terite on Pacific Mornings and shared immense gratitude for being able to collect and carry the lived experiences and tensions at play for NZ-born Pacific peoples.

"I also want to acknowledge is lots of people shared about the strengths of how we see our collectiveness," Asetoa said.

He prefaced his research with acknowledgment of the "superpower" Pacific peoples have which is a collective nature and serving others.

"When there is a kaupapa at hand, often to do with our families, communities, churches, whatever else, often raise to the occasion.

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"The lack of resources often are challenges we find workarounds [for]."

However, this undying support does have a cost as Asetoa points out that fulfilling responsibilities may tax "our own personal well-being".

"What my PhD is trying to socialise and bring to light is how we see our responsibilities.

"How do we see our relationships with others? But also if we take an inward look, which is often awkward, what is our relationship with ourselves?

"What does self-care look like? What does looking after yourself look like?"

He said at the moment they are analysing various factors, such as if age and ethnicity play a difference in answers alongside asking a scenario-based question: "You want to someone help else but it would put you out - be it time, resources or whatever it is - is it selfish to say no?"

"What we can consider is that selfishness is seen as a very non-Pacific type of behaviour.

"We might want to even call it sort of fia pālagi (wanting to be white) behaviour or Western concept of seeing the world."

Asetoa said in light of this association that generally Pacific peoples may want to avoid selfishness. He adds the responses to the question have been "hugely mixed" as the answer is contextual to the situation.

"Some of the current assessments are trying to consider how hard is it for us to say no, even though generosity and serving others is an important value and trait in our community.

"if people are saying that it's okay to sometimes say no then what are some of the tools that we can give to our people to refill our cup but also to fill responsibilities?"

Going forward Asetoa will be stuck in analytics and focus groups with the plan to circle back for another call-out to the communities.

Men's Health Week and Pacific men speaking up

Asetoa also spoke on Men's Health Week (MHW) which starts today. MHW is an annual campaign around raising awareness, where one in four men in the country pass away before retirement.

Every day eight families in Aotearoa lose a partner, father or elder to a preventable illness.

"Anytime you lose a loved one that's pretty horrific for the family involved," Asetoa said.

He points out the keyword preventable notion of the statistic, where if "we look at mental health there are lots of things that can be done".

"Around preventing people going experiencing mental distress in a very bad horrific way.

"It takes a community effort for people to bring these things to light, stand in the gap for others and lift the lid around some of the stigma around mental health."

MHW's campaign has said a male born today will live four years less than a girl "in the room next door", where he will be over 20 per cent more likely to die of a heart attack than that girl, alongside almost 30 per cent more likely to get diabetes.

The health statistics worsen for Pacific men who alongside Māori have the lowest life expectancy in the country. The leading causes of life expectancy gaps between Pacific and non-Māori, non-Pacific are heart diseases, cancer, diabetes, injuries and infections.

Bowel screen testing campaign which highlights a high rate of Māori and Pacific peoples having bowel cancer before 60. Photo/Ministry for Pacific Peoples

Asetoa said it is important to acknowledge how mind and body affect one another, where keeping healthy in the physical sense "might be more related to the kai or food we eat and movement we might do on a regular basis".

"What we also can consider is that can play a big role in our mental well-being.

"In terms of how we might be feeling about ourselves, what we may or may not be able to do in terms of participating in everyday activities.

"So, these things are all interrelated."

Asetoa also feels that Pacific communities have made major progress since 15 to 20 years ago in speaking up about mental health.

He adds that there are still overlays of social norms around masculinity but that mental health has been destigmatised enough to "look after yourself and check in on each other".

"My encouragement to men out there is to find spaces where you feel safe to be vulnerable.

"Perhaps vulnerable is a loaded word.

"That's my encouragement to the brothers. Find those spaces in your brothers, best friend, and other spaces you roam to find a safe space to be vulnerable to grow stronger and stronger."