Being treated as individuals has not been healthy for Maori.
Maori Party co-leader and Te Tai Hauauru MP Tariana Turia told a hui in Wanganui on Monday.
Mrs Turia was speaking at the Removing Barriers collective hui in the War Memorial Hall Concert Chamber at the start of Mental Health Awareness Week.
Mrs Turia was critical of a system that treated only the individual and used privacy laws to leave family uninformed.
Anything that happened to family members affected all the family, she said.
"For too long we have been treated as individuals, and they use the Privacy Act. But all of these issues are whanau issues and privacy is an individual issue."
Whanau needed to know, Mrs Turia said, which was what the health and social services programme Whanau Ora was all about.
"To change one person's life, you have to be working with the whole family. If the issues are family issues, it is a family solution."
Mrs Turia called restoring belief in ourselves and strengthening families the way forward to helping those people needing mental health support. She said the community was in a critical time of our history where divisions have been created, and a well community was about inclusion and working together.
"The wellness of your family lies within you all," Mrs Turia told the audience of those who delivered and those who received the services.
"For too long we have come to expect others to take over the wellness of families. We have come to rely on clinicians. No one will ever know you as well as you do."
Mrs Turia spoke of the over-medication of people, which was about power and control and somebody else managing their lives. She then pointed to the billions of dollars that had been spent in the health system.
"We know it has not been good for us.
"The most important work is to step up to the plate and show leadership."
Professor of psychiatry and research academic Sir Mason Durie also addressed the hui, praising the collective for working together, which he likened to a Whanau Ora model.
He reiterated that wellness was about being well, it was not about everything that was wrong with us. He went on to say that the challenge following the closure of large institutions in the 1970s was that hospitals did not have the experience to work with people who were being released from mental hospitals such as Lake Alice, Tokanui near Te Awamutu, or Oakley in Auckland.
Sir Mason said that for a long time psychiatry had ignored the physical completely.
In 1982, following a Maori Women's Welfare League canvassing of whanau in their homes, Sir Mason said it was recognised that health was a balance of te taha hinengaro/ psychological health; te taha wairua/ spiritual health; te taha tinana/ physical health; and te taha whanau/ family health.
He developed the Maori philosophy model based on a holistic health and wellness model called Te Whare Tapa Wha, which could be applied to any health issue, physical or psychological. Those four dimensions are regarded as representing the four walls of a house; each wall is necessary to the strength and symmetry of the building.