Monique Faleafa is launching a new national suicide prevention training programme, LifeKeepers, this week. The chief executive of Pacific social service provider Le Va wants to build communities of care nationwide.
1 What is LifeKeepers training?
It's like first aid training, giving people in the community the skills to recognise and support those at risk of suicide. It's available free to anyone likely to interact with people at risk, especially those in frontline community roles like sports coaches, clergy, caregivers and ambulance drivers. It's a blend of e-learning and face-to-face workshops with registered clinicians. We aim to create communities of care nationwide so everyone can play a part in preventing suicide.
2 Lifeline used to provide this training - what happened?
An evaluation by the Ministry of Health two years ago found that, among other things, the imported training was not meeting the unique needs of New Zealanders so they wrote a request for proposals for anyone, including Lifeline, to design and deliver New Zealand's first home-grown suicide prevention training programme. Le Va won the contract. Our LifeKeepers training adapts international clinical best practice to New Zealand's cultural mix. We have a specific Maori component because Maori suicide rates are at least 1.5 times higher than the general population and evidence shows indigenous populations do better with their own training.
3 Le Va launched the popular Aunty Dee app 18 months ago. How does it work?
It's a free online tool we set up to teach young people how to solve their problems in a structured way. It's based on cognitive behavioural therapy which evidence shows decreases depression and can prevent suicide. Often when people are distressed they can't see solutions. Aunty Dee helps you define the problem and break it down into manageable steps. Then she emails your plan so you can work through it with people you trust. We designed it for Maori and Pacific youth but it's actually ended up being used by all ethnicities and by clinicians in their consultations with young people. It's spread through word of mouth with support from the NRL's State of Mind campaign and depression.org.nz.
4 Your recent blog on the controversial Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why went viral. Why was that?
District Health Boards put it in their newsletters and psychologists sent it around their groups because sometimes there's a lack of a voice of reason in the media. There are some amazing thought leaders in suicide prevention working behind the scenes. It's great seeing the Prime Minister's science adviser get involved in the conversation. Mike King is fabulous. I was on the government suicide prevention panel with Mike; targets make sense. The panel hasn't been disbanded officially but it hasn't met again either.
5 What did you think of the Herald's suicide awareness campaign?
It's timely. New Zealand is ready to talk about suicide and we need to do it in a responsible way because media reporting is a risk factor for suicide. We trained Pacific media after some very unsafe reporting from the islands. Disturbing images were coming straight to our children's phones here in Auckland. So we approached 23 Pacific media associations to co-develop media guidelines for safe reporting. We had journalists in tears in our workshops saying, "We didn't know we could impact that negatively on our families." The cool thing is with proper training you can report the facts and save lives while you're at it. Our Pacific guidelines are based on the Australian ones which are the best. New Zealand's need to be refreshed.
6 What are the biggest risks of bad media reporting?
The evidence shows that seeing or hearing reports about suicide can trigger suicidal thoughts in people who are already vulnerable. It's crucial not to report how or where a person killed themselves as this can lead to copycat suicides. It's important not to glorify or sensationalise suicide so it seems like a great solution.
7 Do you worry about your children's use of social media?
As parents we get a bit anxious around social media but it can be a fantastic way to identify warning signs. I have an 11 and a 12-year-old and they're like my own focus group. If I can talk to them about making sure people aren't getting bullied online and enhancing protective factors for suicide then I'm doing my own little piece of the puzzle as well.
8 What was your childhood in Grey Lynn like?
It was pretty rough at times but happy. Mum's Irish French and Dad's Samoan, both from large families and very Catholic. We always had a full house. Grey Lynn in the 1970s was the gateway to the Pacific and where the Dawn Raids happened. It wasn't always a nice time. We were told not to answer the door if it was the police. There was a lot of violence but we also felt it was just part of life. My dad, Vui Steve Niumata, became a human rights activist.
9 What did you want to be growing up?
Anyone with parents from the islands is expected to get a good education. I was supposed to be a lawyer but I ended up doing a doctorate in clinical psychology instead. Dad ran a drug and alcohol rehab centre just outside New Plymouth where we lived when I was aged 9 to 12 so I learned that people with mental illness or in recovery from addiction are just like anyone else. When we moved back to Auckland, Dad set up one of the first Pacific national NGOs, Pacific Motu Trust. I worked there from my teens supporting young offenders back into the community.
10 What did you learn working at Pacific Motu Trust?
It was the best training ground because you really get to know human behaviour. There wasn't much formal structure. It was just roll up your sleeves and do what you can. Our follow-up report might be if we see them at church, asking their uncle if they're on the straight and narrow. NGOs were run on the smell of an oily rag back then. These days the infrastructure is much stronger. The Government's starting to understand that annual funding doesn't provide sustainable solutions.
11 Have you ever been an activist or have you taken a more conservative path?
Unbeknown to most people, I'm really quite radical but gone are the days of table thumping. Our forefathers needed to do that but it's more collaborative now. As a representative of the council's Pacific Advisory Panel, I marched up Queen St with Len Brown in the 2012 Pasifika March for Equality. Len asked me when Pacific people last marched up Queen St and I knew it was in 1974 against the Dawn Raids because I've got a photo from the Herald of my dad and mum, 9 months pregnant with me, leading that only other Pacific march.
12 Do you still experience racism?
It's always there, like a free-floating anxiety. Since Le Va won the nationwide training contract we've had some nasty comments from people asking why a Pacific organisation is leading this "mainstream" work? There's a presumption that brown people can't be as smart as white people. Actually we're one of the most qualified suicide prevention teams in New Zealand with an impeccable track record across the board, so I prefer to let our performance do the talking.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.
If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:
DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234
There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.