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Top Pacific psychologist honoured for mental health research

6 October 2016

Top Pacific psychologist honoured for mental health research

Waikato University research fellow Dr Byron Seiuli has been recognised for his significant contribution to supporting Pacific men facing trauma and mental health challenges.

The Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) presented Dr Seiuli, a counsellor of Samoan heritage, with an award as an emerging researcher at a ceremony at Waikato University last night.

As part of a HRC Pacific PhD scholarship, Dr Seiuli examined and documented the ways that Samoan men address death and bereavement. The research came about after conversations he had with bereaved Samoan families wanting to support their young men to deal with and express their grief appropriately following the devastating tsunami that struck Samoa in October 2009.

His research revealed that traditional psychological perspectives on grief recovery are overtly clinical and in stark contrast to Samoan and Pasifika mourning patterns. This work has made an important contribution to grief recovery research, one that is culturally relevant and accessible to Samoan men and their families.

Last year Dr Seiuli was awarded a HRC Pacific postdoctoral scholarship where he is continuing his focus on Pacific mental health, this time looking at the attitudes and mental health experiences of adolescent and young adult Pasifika males (18–25 years) when it comes to intimate partner relationships.

HRC Chief Executive Professor Kath McPherson says Ministry of Health data1 shows that Pacific people experience a higher rate of mental health conditions than the general New Zealand population, and yet are much less likely to access mental health services.

“Byron’s work adds an important Pacific perspective and voice to the field of trauma counselling and psychology that hasn’t been explored before in New Zealand or elsewhere. His work will help us understand how New Zealand’s mental health services can better serve our Pacific community – particularly Pacific men – and help them cope with mental health issues that may arise in their lives.”

Professor Ross Lawrenson from Waikato University’s Centre for Health Research was also recognised at the ceremony with a HRC established researcher award for his contribution to research excellence.

Professor Lawrenson has led two substantial HRC-funded studies and worked on six other HRC grants over the past seven years.

As a specialist in epidemiology and public health medicine, Professor Lawrenson led a HRC and Ministry of Health-funded study looking at the costs and complications of screening for prostate cancer. This work led to further funding from Janssen-Cilag, a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson, for three studies on understanding metastatic prostate cancer issues for Māori and non-Māori men.

The research identified that Māori men were 28 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than non-Māori men, yet 52 per cent more likely to die of the disease than non-Māori. It was the first study to show that lower reported prostate cancer incidence rates for Māori men is in fact related to lower PSA screening rates rather than incidence of the cancer.

The findings from this study have fed straight into the National Prostate Cancer Working Group, who are developing prostate cancer care standards for all services to follow.

Professor Lawrenson is currently leading a HRC-funded study to improve outcomes for women with breast cancer in New Zealand using data on 12,500 women from the Waikato and Auckland Breast Cancer Registries.

1Ministry of Health (2008). Pacific Peoples and Mental Health: A paper for the Pacific Health and Disability Action Plan review.


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