The new Mental Health and Well Being Policy will bring mental health awareness and support to the forefront of the Cook Islands.
The objectives of the policy are to strengthen leadership and governance for mental health, to provide better mental health and social care services in the community, to do more promotion of mental wellbeing and to strengthen evidence and research for mental health.
Policy writer Valentino Wichman says these objectives contribute to the overall goal which is to promote mental wellbeing, prevent mental disorders, provide care, enhance recovery, promote human rights and reduce mortality, morbidity and disability among people with mental disorders.
Wichman says ultimately, they want to create a Cook Islands where mental wellbeing is valued, recognized and understood.
“This new policy provides a framework for the Cook Islands to move towards better health outcomes for our people,” he says.
Wichman says hearing the policy had been passed felt amazing.
He added that he is very proud of himself and the team who put it together in less than a year, which he says is very short for a national policy.
Wichman hopes the policy will also remove stigmas like the idea that people with mental illnesses aren’t capable of doing anything or that mental health only encompasses extreme illnesses and psychosis.
He says many people don’t understand mental health and are therefore scared of anyone who has a mental illness.
“We want to help people understand what the symptoms of mental illnesses are, especially depression which is prevalent but not talked about as much as it should be,” he says.
Minister of Health, Nandi Glassie says in years past, not enough emphasis had been put on mental health, but now this policy will set a direction for the future where mental health is recognised and focussed on much more.
Now with this policy, Glassie says at least they can say that mental health is clearly part and parcel of health services in the Cook Islands.
“The Ministry of Health is very policy driven so that we can streamline our services to the public at large,” he says.
Secretary of health, Liz Iro says it is time to make mental health a priority.
“The important thing to remember is that this is a national policy, not a ministry of health policy, it involves everyone,” Iro says.
Now that the policy has been approved, the Ministry of Health are working to develop an implementation plan or strategy for the policy objectives.
Wichman says they are also now looking into a prevalence study to better understand exactly what the needs are in the community with mental health.
If you or a family member is in need of mental health support, contact the following service providers.
Service providers in the Cook Islands:
Te Kainga Mental Health and Wellbeing Centre ph 20162
Youth Helpline ph 08004357
Ministry of Health ph 29110