Mental Health in SamoaSamoa is a beautiful island in the South Pacific. It is surrounded by deep blue water and covered with lush green trees. Samoans are known for their incredible culture. They value family, service, respect and love. But, underneath the island’s beauty and the people’s culture, Samoa faces a hard truth: A quarter of Samoa’s population is multidimensionally poor. This financial insecurity affects one’s mental well-being. Samoans have suffered in silence for decades because of the lack of education and resources.

The Past

Samoans have faced many challenges regarding mental health. Due to a lack of financial support, Samoans have had little education about mental illness and how to treat it. This confusion has resulted in misconceptions as to what causes poor mental health.

For many years, the Samoan culture relied on the belief that a demon was responsible for mental illness. This “demon” dictated the person’s actions and feelings about themselves. This belief led to feelings of isolation and misunderstanding amongst the Samoan people. That isolation perpetuates the silence.

In the 1970s and the early 80s, Samoa experienced an epidemic of suicide. The suicide rates rose sharply, and the mental health of many Samoans worsened. To combat this, the minister of public works decided they needed to build a space for people struggling with mental illness. However, they did not have the resources or money to care for these patients. Pisaina Tago, a nurse at the time, recalled what happened to one of the violent patients: “One of the patients — he damaged the whole room, and everyone was at risk. We took him to the police, and they agreed to take him to prison, and that’s where he died. He [was found] drowned in the 44-gallon water tank for the toilet and baths.”

By 1981, Samoa had the third-highest suicide rate in the world per capita. The citizens needed help.

The Change Within

Poverty has an extreme effect on one’s mental health. Being at or below the poverty line makes someone twice as likely to suffer from depression. Samoans already experience immense pressure from family and peers. Adding financial insecurity on top of this is detrimental to one’s well-being. The good news is that changes have begun to address mental health and poverty in Samoa.

Rehabilitative measures have started to help Samoans find meaning in life and allow them to open up. First, the Mental Health Unit (MHU) constructed new buildings. These renovations created a safer space for the staff and patients. The MHU also started implementing art therapy. Art allows the patients to express themselves. This form of self-care has spread around the island and reached youth.

The MHU in Samoa altogether is working towards lowering suicide rates. With the awareness rising of the extremities of mental illness, the MHU can target many of its causes now. Alcohol, bullying, prison and family problems are focal points for the MHU and stopping suicide. In a 2014 survey, when 124 Samoans were asked if mental health was important, 77% said it was, and the other 23% said it was not, signifying the need for education.

Fellow Samoans have also started to step in and help their community. The organization Faatua Le Ola (FLO) started offering free counseling sessions for anyone who needs help. FLO spreads awareness about suicide by reaching out to schools and speaking to youth about where to get help. FLO also created a hotline to prevent suicide. It is one of many organizations that realized the dire need for mental health assistance on the island.

Plan of Action

Addressing poverty will improve mental health in Samoa. Money is needed to provide people with the proper education and resources. People can focus on their mental health and getting help by improving financial strain.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is helping fight poverty in Samoa. IFAD focuses on the rural poor by enhancing opportunities and building self-reliance. IFAD improves access for Samoans and allows them better resources and technology. IFAD also focuses on helping governments invest in programs that help places like Samoa.

For mental health in Samoa, the Bridgetown Declaration on Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) and Mental Health addressed the world’s deadliest diseases in Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Bridgetown launched the declaration to address mental health conditions. The directive aims to raise awareness of SIDS’s challenges, forge possible solutions, increase domestic and international action on NCDs and mental health, and engage society to accelerate proposed ideas.

Although there is room for growth in improving mental health in Samoa, increased awareness and problem-solving have put the island on the right track. The future of Samoan mental health will continue to improve with better action plans to alleviate poverty and help from the community.

– Madison Rogers
Photo: Flickr

Samoa is an island nation in the central Pacific Ocean. It is said to be the “Cradle of Polynesia” because it is believed that the island of Savai’i is Hawaiki, the Polynesian homeland.

Samoa became independent from New Zealand in 1962, which brought over 100 years of foreign dominance to an end. Internationally, Samoa is thought of as a tropical paradise where the inhabitants are welcoming of tourists, but there are still problems on the small island nation, one of which is education.

The major challenges for education in Samoa include the quality of education and access to early childhood education, according to a 2015 report filed by the government of Samoa. Early childhood education helps get children ready for primary school, but most teachers do not have the skills to fully prepare them. Another concern for early childhood education in Samoa is children’s performance in basic education. A number of children do not gain basic literacy and numeracy skills, which are important for them to further their education.

The quality of teaching poses a problem for early childhood education in Samoa as well. There are some challenges when it comes to qualifications and certifications, but the main problem is the competence of teachers and principals. Many early childhood education teachers are untrained.

Primary and secondary education in Samoa also has problems. Various schools do not achieve the minimum standards for the quality of learning in the classroom. Many primary school teachers do not have the proper training and support, and teachers seldom have the skills to identify and teach special needs students. Teachers often have a lack of commitment to the profession as well. For many teachers in Samoa, teaching is not their career of choice, and they often leave when the opportunity comes up. This makes keeping good teachers a challenge in both the primary and secondary levels. To improve the quality education in Samoa, high quality teachers must be retained.

Despite this, the graduation rate among high school seniors continues to be above 90 percent, according to the Samoa Observer. Between 2011 and 2014, the graduation rate was 98 percent, but it fell to 96 percent in the 2014-2015 academic year. The CIA reported that the literacy rate among adults was 99 percent, but the country ranks 48th in education spending.

Although education in Samoa has made significant progress, it still faces problems with quality. In order to improve on this, they must they must prepare children for further schooling in their early life. Public awareness of the importance of early childhood education must be raised as well.

For primary and secondary education, marketing for teachers must be more aggressive in order to attract teachers and keep them committed to the profession. Teachers should be encouraged to find creative ways to deliver a lesson in order to keep students engaged.

Fernando Vazquez

Photo: Flickr