Suicide is preventable
A significant idea drives much of Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath's research with Pacific communities: Suicide is preventable.
"The best solutions for suicide prevention come from those who have attempted to take their lives, or have thought about it, and those bereaved by suicide.
"I have run two major research projects interviewing people who have attempted suicide, the first with young people of Samoan descent, and the second with 22 Samoan adults (15 NZ-born, 7 Samoan-born) engaged in mental health services who had either attempted suicide or had suicide ideation (suicidal thoughts).
"Talking to those who had attempted suicide was fairly new ground to break when I did my first project, as part of my doctoral research in the early 2000s. I would have been one of a handful of researchers in Aotearoa New Zealand with this particular focus, and supervision was hard to come by, even more so, as I was the very first contributing Pacific academic insight to the field. But I knew even then that it was important for Pacific peoples to be able to openly talk about suicide.
"The participants in my research were forthcoming because they were helping others by talking to me, and some found it healing just being able to talk about their experiences. There's evidence suggesting that talking about it is helpful, and doesn't necessarily put someone at increased suicide risk.
Research indicates that each suicide directly impacts an average of 60 people.
"Suicide is preventable. Among the most important Pacific suicide-prevention strategies I recommend based on my experiences of over two decades, is open and consistent communication whether it is within families, our peers, work colleagues, team mates — 'checking in' on those we care about on a regular basis. For example, 'aiga can ask each other how their day was, as a matter of habit.
"Another related family strategy is talking about your own vulnerabilities. If Pacific caregivers show and share our 'not so good' moments with younger family members it sends a powerful message that they too are 'allowed' to feel upset or down, and they don't have to pretend to be 'keeping it together' all the time. It helps them feel that they're in a safe space to talk through, and walk through, the rough patches.
"I work in this area because a friend of mine died by suicide when I was in my early teens, and others I knew tried to do the same. Research indicates that each suicide directly impacts an average of 60 people, and that these people left behind are often at higher risk of suicide themselves — so looking after their wellbeing (via 'suicide postvention') is vital.
Growing more Pacific researchers is important, so we can research our own, for our own, particularly as our populations are fast growing.
"Consultation has always been a huge part of my research — with communities, families, spiritual leaders, health experts, youth and so on. I have met hundreds of people where they feel most comfortable, whether that's in churches, marae, schools, health clinics or social settings (such as an eatery, a tavern, watching a live sports match). Sometimes it's in fono, sometimes one-on-one, sometimes via email and social media.
"I receive input about the direction of my research and then that research informs culturally-relevant knowledge translation, like suicide-prevention pamphlets and guidelines which are co-designed with grassroots communities, the suicide-bereaved, professionals and young people.
"Sometimes these communities are not ethnically my own — for example, I was involved in developing suicide-prevention resources for the Tongan community. In these situations, as an 'outsider', you share your expertise with the research team. It is important for academics to learn when to stand back and respect cultural spaces, knowledges and 'place'.
"I supervise a number of postgraduate students researching mental health and wellbeing. Growing more Pacific researchers is important, so we can research our own, for our own, particularly as our populations are fast growing. Increasing our capability and capacity is part of decolonising methodologies, thought and attitudes. It's turning the tides."