It's Mental Health Awareness week for 2021. When the word "mental health" springs to mind, the first image that usually appears for most people is the brain. Google it and the same prevails.
But for myself as Māori, and for us as Aotearoa, we have this beautiful taonga developed by Sir Mason Durie — Te Whare Tapa Whā.
Te Whare Tapa Whā is a model developed to describe Māori health and wellbeing. It's four dimensions of wellbeing that are modelled off the four walls of a wharenui (meeting house), each built upon the foundation of the whenua.
But for me the four dimensions are key to my overall mental wellness and in times like this, each has been impacted one way or another.
Taha tinana, physical wellbeing. The physical nourishment of your tinana is hugely important to overall mental wellbeing. There is nothing quite like clearing my head with a morning jog up my 2km-long driveway that traverses paddocks in rural South Taranaki.
Focusing on a goal, training with whānau and having a laugh along the way, priceless.
But for my whanaunga Heather Te-Au-Skipworth and Wayne Skipworth, organisers of IronMāori, the uncertainty with how this outbreak is going to play out is simply unsustainable.
The life-changing stories that have come from events like IronMāori indicate the significance of it.
These events are pivotal to the wellness of our taha tinana. Without IronMāori I would be unwell and obese, they influenced my change of lifestyle. And that's the very point of these events, they aren't businesses, they are lifestyles.
But without question, they are also aware of their obligation to protect our whakapapa and have postponed numerous events to do just that.
Then my question is, what's our plan to maintain and reconnect whānau who run these life-changing events? What's our plan to sustain these people who put their livelihoods on the line for the benefit of others? What is our plan to protect their Whare Tapa Whā?
Taha wairua, spiritual wellbeing. Often associated with the word mauri, your life force or spiritual essence of being. The identity of where you come from, who and what defines you.
But ultimately what unites all Māori in this dimension is our tikanga and customs; hugely impacted by the inability to mourn those we have lost in the sad event of death.
We've all seen the videos; I can still hear the shattering wailing of a daughter in level 4 who had to stand at a gate whilst her mother was laid to rest in a solo burial in Mangere — cruel.
I've had to help organise a tangi for rangatira within our community, with a day spent on the phone trying to get clarity in level 3.
Whilst our whānau have done their best to adapt in times like level 3 and level 4, seeing their experience with this trauma is heartbreaking. The idea that contact sport can go on, but Māori and Pasifika cannot be trusted to make amends to their tikanga to negate health risks — devastating.
Not being able to travel to support a dying parent is cruel. There are saliva tests returning results in minutes. When will the fact we are vaccinated be considered an exemption? It's like there's no plan. Where is the consideration for the taha wairua for these whānau?
Taha whānau, family and social wellbeing. Whilst some of us are often comforted by being surrounded in lockdown with our immediate whānau, there are those that have gone without for months now. Our team of five million is starting to fray.
With Tamaki Makaurau left in higher alert levels, and with their heavy restrictions prolonged, I feel for them. The rest of the nation has returned to some normality, gyms are back operating, families that were spread across the countryside are now united.
Then the eye turns to vaccination rates, and the harsh inequity between Māori and non-Maori.
Inequity that has been existent since the rollout began. Our whānau and providers are having to fight to vaccinate. And now we have a Government ready to progress vaccination passports before the inequity gaps have been closed.
It's like the team of five million are no longer batting for the same team. How do we reclaim our sense of unity as one? As a united Aotearoa ready to confront future challenges such as climate justice, pandemics, and a new global norm.
Taha hingengaro, mental wellbeing. So, the question is now this, what are we doing in these times to support our mental wellbeing when the walls around us seem to be crashing down?
How do we as a nation care for each other? Because whether I'm tangata whenua, you're tangata tiriti or tangata moana — we are each interconnected just like the four walls in our whare, joined by the whenua of Aotearoa.
Whether thousands of years of heritage here or newly arrived, we each have an opportunity to interweave our strengths to build a stronger Aotearoa wharenui.
• Debbie Ngarewa-Packer is co-leader of the Māori Party