Covid-19 has been "really tough" on the mental well-being of Māori and has impacted its culture "quite severely", Māori leaders and health experts say.
A Rotorua-based Māori health leader says police callouts relating to mental health had risen since the start of the pandemic.
And a Bay of Plenty iwi chief executive says regulations introduced to combat Covid have undermined Māori culture by no longer being able to do "a hongi or a handshake".
It comes as NZME launched a major editorial project, Great Minds, which will explore the growing impact of mental health and anxiety on Kiwis and how we can improve our wellbeing.
As well as investigative reporting on the state of our mental health services and the effect of the pandemic on New Zealanders of all walks of life, it will share personal stories, interactive features and wellbeing ideas to help our readers as we emerge from Covid and Omicron.
Te Mana Hauora o Te Arawa chairman Michael Naera said the pandemic had been "really tough" on the mental well-being of Māori, particularly with managing anxiety, depression and loneliness.
In December, Naera told the Rotorua Daily Post he was concerned that a "second pandemic" was happening - a mental health crisis.
Last week, Naera said there had been a rise in mental health-related police callouts.
"That tells me that my people are struggling."
Naera said whānau making calls related to psychotic episodes were having to wait until the next day to be seen.
"Prior to Covid, [a] psychotic episode would be attended in less time than it is now."
Naera described a psychotic episode as someone with "severe mental distress" or who had been diagnosed with a mental health disorder such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia or bipolar.
Covid-19 had impacted the well-being of whānau, which led to some slipping into a "dark hole", taking it out on their whānau or destroying their home because they had reached "breaking point".
"Or they've locked themselves in a room and threatened to take their lives."
Nationally, Naera said it was time to revisit the He Ara Oranga report, which was a Government inquiry into mental health and addiction.
According to the report, the inquiry was announced in 2018. Its purpose was to hear the views of the community on New Zealand's approach to mental health and addiction and what needed to change. It also recommended specific changes to improve the approach to mental health.
"When Covid-19 occurred, I think everything to do with mental health was put to the side and the virus was put to the front.
"I think they now need to push that report to the front and to review that report to make sure that services are available, that wait times are reduced."
Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley said Covid had changed the way kaupapa Māori operated "quite severely".
"Something as simple as a hongi or a handshake has to all be dispensed with ... it undermines the culture."
Stanley said Covid had particularly affected single Māori.
"When you're single and you're living on your own and you're forced into a situation where you're isolating ... our people do it really hard."
He said there was "a lot of fear and issues going on", particularly with kaumātua and kuia who were "quite upset" about the impact of Covid, especially if they were immuno-compromised.
Stanley said there was a "non-recognition" of Māori practices in mental health.
"Having a whanau-ora type treatment centre is actually invaluable in our society."
Rotorua police area commander Inspector Phil Taikato acknowledged NZME's campaign as mental illness had a "severe impact" on people's lives in the rohe.
Taikato said mental health-related events had been increasing year on year for the past five years.
The annual New Zealand Police report for 2020/2021 said nationally, police attended 70,225 events involving a person having a mental health crisis or threatening or attempting suicide. This was a 10 per cent increase from the previous year.
"Demand in these areas continues to grow, which requires our staff to prioritise and manage the competing demands in real time."
In Rotorua, emergency housing motels emerged once the borders closed and "rough sleepers" were put into motels to control the lockdown, he said.
"And we did then see a rise in our mental health attendances."
But the positive of this was that those who were displaying mental health challenges were put together and provided with the right services, he said.
"We can bring the support and the assistance they need in a timely manner."
If police came across a potential mental health issue, they could refer people to the right services, he said.
"Every house we go into - we have the ability to make referrals."
He said improving mental health service delivery was a priority for the Government and the New Zealand Police worked in partnership with several agencies and organisations.
The Ministry of Health was approached for comment.
A tikanga approach to mental health
Naera said a tikanga approach to mental health involved shifting the focus from the individual to the whānau.
"If the individual is sick then let's focus on the whānau - let's empower the whānau around how they support each other, how they korero ... it's an all-inclusive way of working and then it's connecting to our karakia, our whakapapa, our marae."
Naera said there were medicinal properties in plants such as kawakawa and koromiko which could help whānau and their healing.
"It helps clear the mind, it helps release the puku ... it does wonders."
Tohunga [skilled practitioners] would also use mirimiri - a Māori massage - to help with mental health.
Cooking kai, sitting and laughing together were also part of mental health and well-being practices in Māori communities, he said.
Stanley said mental health treatment for Māori was about a "whānau approach".
"Māori are more likely to look after their own than send them into rehabilitation centres.
"Part of the reason for that is rehabilitation centres deal with the individuals - they don't actually deal with the whole of the whānau."
He said the most important aspect of treating Maori mental health was an "all-round" treatment.
"It's actually about settling the wairua [spirit, soul] more than treating by drugs."
Where to get help
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
For counselling and support:
Lifeline: Call 0800 543 354 or text 4357 (HELP)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: Call 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Need to talk? Call or text 1737
Depression helpline: Call 0800 111 757 or text 4202
For children and young people:
Youthline: Call 0800 376 633 or text 234
What's Up: Call 0800 942 8787 (11am to 11pm) or webchat (11am to 10.30pm)
The Lowdown: Text 5626 or webchat
For help with specific issues:
Alcohol and Drug Helpline: Call 0800 787 797
Anxiety Helpline: Call 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY)
OutLine: Call 0800 688 5463 (0800 OUTLINE) (6pm-9pm)
Safe to talk (sexual harm): Call 0800 044 334 or text 4334
All services are free and available 24/7 unless otherwise specified.
For more information and support, talk to your local doctor, hauora, community mental health team, or counselling service.