A high number of Maori and Pasifika youth are suffering from a mental health illness and now a $2 million research grant is set to help better support them.

The Health Research Council of New Zealand has announced its involvement with UK-based Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases organisation - a collection of the world's largest public research funding groups.

The GACD funds joint initiatives looking at lifestyle-related chronic diseases such as diabetes, specific cancers, cardiovascular diseases and mental health.

The HRC's first big programme, as part of the organisation, is a $2 million funding scheme that will go towards research to find better strategies to help young Pasifika and Maori struggling with mental health issues such as schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders.


There are a number of organisation and groups around the country that specifically help Maori or Pacific people struggling with mental illness.

Among those is Te Aho Tapu Trust Psychological Services based in Auckland.

Clinical psychologist Sharon Rickard said they worked with Maori whanau most of the time, but also offered their services to others within the community.

She often helped youth with high-offending behaviours who were at the "extreme-end of offending'' and therefore at high risk of hurting themselves or going to prison.

"It breaks my heart.

"It's so easy to diagnose. Really, you're saying: 'There's something wrong there'.

"But the sensitive and the most responsible thing is to say: 'There's something wrong. I wonder what is causing it, or I wonder what I can do to change it'?"

She said one of the biggest strategies she hoped researchers would be looking at was teaching young people about care and respect.

"Rather than treatment, maybe focus on care and how to care.

"How to teach young people to care for themselves and how to teach whanau or families to care for themselves ... physically, emotionally and spiritually.''

HRC chief executive and AUT Professor of Rehabilitation Kathryn McPherson said the funding - which is in association with the Ministry of Health - would allow social workers and health-care providers to work with researchers to come up with better strategies for those specific communities.


She highlighted the fact Maori and Pacific people disproportionately experienced mental health problems.

"In 10 of the 17 years from 1996 to 2012, Maori suicide death rates were significantly higher than those of non-Maori.

"Pacific people also have a higher prevalence of mental illness than the general population, yet are much less likely to access mental health services.''

Statistics from the Ministry of Health showed that in 2012, there were 119 Maori deaths by suicide, accounting for 21.6 per cent of all suicides that year.

In 2013/14, figures showed 12.6 per cent of Pacific people and 9.1 per cent of Maori reported experiencing high or very high levels of psychological distress.

That was in comparison to 5.9 per cent of Europeans and other, and 4.4 per cent of those who identified as Asian.

McPherson said mental illness was something people tended to shy away from discussing.

"But it is common and it can be devastating.

"We know that much more can be done to promote mental health. This investment aims to release innovation that will really work for our rangatahi and Pacific youth and their families.''

Registrations for those wanting to apply for funding under the initiative open on May 1.

**For more info visit: www.hrc.govt.nz

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
Samaritans 0800 726 666
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.