The Pacific Theological College (PTC) launched ‘Watching the Waves’ an online platform that brings Pacific Islanders together to Talanoa (talk/share) about issues of today that threaten their mental wellbeing.
Issues like poverty, the devastation of non-communicable diseases, climate change and COVID19, like the waves of the ocean, engulf many lives.
Launching the programme, Principal PTC Rev. Professor Dr. Upolu Vaai focussed on the topic ‘Ecology and Mental Health in God’s Pacific Household’ rooted in the concept of relationality.
It acknowledges that all life is interconnected.
‘Everything exists in a relationship,’ said Rev Professor Vaai.
‘There is no physical wellbeing without spiritual wellbeing, no economic wellbeing without ecological wellbeing and no personal wellbeing without community wellbeing,’ he added.
Wellbeing according to Rev Professor Vaai is weaving together all these is important in addressing mental health.
According to the World Health Organisation in 2020, many Pacific Islands are reporting growing cases of mental health. A key concern is COVID19. People are worried they will get sick and are affected by social isolation caused by travel restrictions and not being able to talk to family. Domestic violence has also increased.
Rev Professor Vaai said in the Pacific mental health and wellbeing of an individual is Cosmo centric or the whole dimension of life. An individual is the sum of his community that includes his father, mother, bird, totem, ancestors, cultures, spiritual beliefs and so forth. The loss of a relationship to one of this affects his mental health.
‘In the Pacific when we lose these communal relationships, we lose the safety nets the individual relies on for healing,’ he said.
‘One of the main causes of mental health in the Pacific is climate displacement.
When we remove people from the land and community for relocation programmes causing trauma and stress, we are not just meddling with mental health.’
‘We are also touching the heart of community health i.e.; our health is rooted in relationships with their earth and with each other. So, we are not just removing people.’
‘We are removing them from a place and space that sustain their wellbeing for centuries,’ said Rev Professor Vaai.
‘Those who work on climate relocation should be cautious as they are not just dealing with a climate issue.
They are also dealing with peoples and persons whose life is constituted by their land, their totems, their ancestors and the oceans and so on.
‘With the rapid growth of secularism, spirituality is lost from all secular frameworks and models of development including climate change.
‘Indigenous wisdom on the sacredness of life, the earth is a relative and the interconnectedness of life have been relegated to the background but these are key to individuals and communities,’ he said.
‘Mental health then should not be treated as a standalone issue.’
A full recording of Rev Professor Vaai’s presentation is available here.
Vosita Lenisaurua created ‘Watching the Waves’.
She is also the coordinator for the Pastoral Counselling and Peace Building Programme for the Institute for Mission and Research of PTC.
‘’Watching the Waves’ is a concept of our Pacific Household,’ said Ms Lenisaurua.
‘It is drawn from Pacific peoples’ way of life; looking, watching and observing the sea’s condition to determine their course and action.
‘This is a common everyday activity, to watch the sea’s condition for a number of reasons such as travel and to predict time and seasons that are of great importance to Pacific Islanders,’ she added.
‘Watching the Waves is a fitting analogy for conversations about lived experiences, hopes and concerns of the overwhelming changes that continue to impact our Pacific societies today,’ she said.
‘Changes that we can no longer see as ‘tides’ but waves that engulf, leaving us vulnerable and deprived.’
Ms Lenisaurua said the discussions is imperative because it will produce practical solutions for resolving these problems.