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In the open . . . Members of Oamaru's Pacific Island community at Le Va's suicide prevention talanoa. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

Keeping an open va (space) is the key to strengthening mental health, Pasifika suicide prevention worker Leilani Clarke says.

Miss Clarke was in Oamaru last week as part of Le Va’s Flo Talanoa, a national suicide prevention programme targeted at Pasifika people.

The organisation delivered a workshop at the Brydone Hotel to empower the local Pasifika community to become leaders in suicide prevention.

It covered the risk factors, protective factors and warning signs for suicide, and techniques to bring up the topic.

“This is more than just awareness – we are trying to mobilise leadership in the community,” Miss Clarke said.

“What we focus on is the protective factors and how our community can enhance those.

“Because we are a communal people we know how to connect, so relationships are really important.

“Le Va means the space is not an empty one, it’s a relational space.

“It is a programme that was designed by communities, with communities, for communities, using clinically-based knowledge combined with cultural wisdom and deep community connection.”

Everyone needed a sense of belonging, acceptance and purpose, and a community could work together to make sure everyone felt those, she said.

Suicide was a complex issue for everyone and needed an open community response.

“People will always look for that resonating to find some sort of closure,” Miss Clarke said.

“But it’s not just about one thing, it is very multi-layered.

“It’s not one organisation that can fix this. It is a community effort.”

Fale Pasifika o Aoraki co-ordinator Lusi Fifita said the workshop was “very helpful”.

“It was an awesome way to create a safe space for our Pasifika people to be open-minded and be more confident on this subject of suicide, because it is a very sensitive and serious subject our people don’t know how to approach,” Miss Fifita said.

“Having Le Va share and create that space for our community gave us that hope that we can prevent someone from ending their life in an approach where we and the person going through those dark thoughts are safe and trusted, which is very important, especially for our youth and male Pasifika people.

“I do think there will be some initiatives to develop and teach our Pasifika people to be more confident and culturally aware about talking about suicide and their mental health, that it’s OK and they are not alone.”