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Creating safe space for men to discuss mental health issues

Friday 11 November 2022 | Written by Matthew Littlewood | Published in Health, Local, National

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Creating safe space for men to discuss mental health issues
Reikorangi Ellison, raised over $3000 for the Creative Centre through fundraising for the Movember programme. 20030520/21

Cook Islands National Youth Council (CINYC) wants young and old men to sit down and talk about mental health, and is providing the space to do so.

The Men’s Mental Health Couch Talks, which take place today at Muri Beach Club Hotel from 6pm, feature a number of experts in the mental health sphere.

National Youth Council spokesperson Jean Nootai said the stigma surrounding mental health among Cook Islands men was still strong in parts, and there needed to be a place where men could open up.

“Mental health issues affect people across the spectrum. It’s got nothing to do with being strong, or weak,” she said.

“This is an opportunity to create a safe space for men to talk about the issues.”

“This event first began as a fundraiser for the Alcoholic Anonymous Association in 2021 but it has now evolved to become an annual event in honour of Men’s Health Month for the Cook Islands.”

Nootai said the purpose of the Couch Talk is to normalise the conversations surrounding men’s health and wellbeing. 

“Recent statistics from Te Marae Ora show that 57 per cent of the male population aged 18-74 have yet to see a medical professional,” she said.

“Many suffer from physical and mental health issues but do not look for help. We want to know why this is and what can be done to help. We will have community champions as well as health professionals on the night who are prepared to share their own knowledge and experiences with men’s health in the Cook Islands.”

Nootai said there was a tradition of men in the Cook Islands trying to conform to the “strong silent type”.

“There is an expectation among Cook Islands men that they would not struggle, but the reality is everyone is human, and everyone will need support in some form in their life,” she said.

“I think a lot of the stigma associated with mental health comes down to pride. We really have to address that, and events such as this are a great start.”

However, Nootai felt the conversation was “growing” among younger people in the Cook Islands. Two of the panellists come from Tereora College.

“I felt like a lot of young people have really stepped up and helped lead the conversation about mental health. For them, it’s not the taboo it once was.”

The panel includes:

  • Sidney Fimone - Student - Tereora College
  • Ngatupuna Kae - Student - Tereora College
  • Reikorangi Ellison - Founder of Movember Cook Islands & The Realist Project 
  • Eddie Rakanui - Blogger, Founder of Big Life Mindset Podcast & Corporate Leadership Coach (Wellington)
  • Dr Evangelene Daniela Wong - Clinical Therapist - Ministry of Health - Te Marae Ora, and
  • Tereapii Tumutoa - Health Promotions Manager - Ministry of Health - Te Marae Ora.

“We were able to reach out and get some really interesting people to help us with the conversation,” Nootai said.

“But the important thing is to come to the event with an open mind and an open heart. There will be a lot of opportunities to join the conversation, but if you’re only comfortable just listening, then we’re here for you too.”