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Housing Insecurity And Mental Health Major Concerns For Pacific Youth

Unstable mental health, housing deprivation and experiences of racism are worrying trends in a significant new report on Pacific students in Aotearoa.

A new report on Pacific secondary school students in New Zealand has uncovered major inequities in mental health, deprivation and racism, but also notes significant progress in areas like feeling safe at school, connections to family and faith and lowered substance abuse.

The report, Talavou o le Moana, has found that while Pacific students are largely thriving and connected in areas like family, school and church, they also face high rates of deprivation, poverty and racism, says lead author Dr Analosa Veukiso-Ulugia.

Veukiso-Ulugia is senior lecturer and Health Research Council postdoctoral research fellow at Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland and Moana Connect.

She says the fact that more Pacific students feel safe at school (up from 71.8% in 2001 to 85.9%
in 2019) and that cigarette smoking and binge drinking has substantially dropped – the former
from 20.2% in 2001 to just 4.3% in 2019, and the latter from 23.2% in 2001 to 12.7% in 2019 –
shows it's possible to make changes, but inequity continues to hold back Pacific young people.

“Almost half of Pacific students experienced housing deprivation,” she says. “Their families worried about not having enough money for rent or mortgage, and almost half reported not always feeling safe in their neighbourhood.

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More than a third reported experiencing racism (40.5%), with a further quarter unsure if an experience was a racist encounter (25.2%).

Mental health was a big area of concern.

“Around a quarter of Pacific students reported significant depressive symptoms and the same number reported serious thoughts of suicide in the last year; and tragically, just over one in ten attempted suicide in the last year (11.7%),” says Veukiso-Ulugia.

Associate Dean Pacific at the University’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, Sir Collin Tukuitonga, who chaired an expert panel at the launch, says these are “unacceptable statistics that must be urgently addressed”.

A report by the Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee revealed that between 2015 and 2019, 79 Pacific young people aged 15 to 19 died of medical conditions, suicide and injury; with transport incidents being the leading cause of injury death.

Veukiso-Ulugia says low contraceptive use was also worrying.

“While most Pacific students were not sexually active (84.9%), four out of five sexually active students did not always use a condom (79.9%).”

Notably, she says, around a quarter of respondents had been touched in a sexual way or made to do unwanted sexual things (24.7%).

And while many students have made plans for their futures (87.4%), about a quarter reported that they didn’t feel they would get the support needed to realise these plans (25.2%).
“A third of respondents said they didn’t see a positive future for themselves in Aotearoa,” says Veukiso-Ulugia.

The report recommends that in the short term, Pacific students’ basic needs must be met, but to create a more equitable future, governments and other agencies must partner with Pacific young people, their families and communities and invest in more quality research with and for them.

In response to the report's launch on Monday 26 February, Pacific health leaders on the launch panel noted the need for more Pacific health workers across the health sector and for Pacific young people to be more involved in creating and running services designed for them.

They also mentioned the gap between Pacific health services, of which there are many, and young people actually using and benefitting from them.

Stigma in the community about admitting poor mental health was also something playing a part in these statistics, they believed.

Sir Collin reiterated that the survey overall told a positive story, but with "some dark areas" that clearly need urgent attention.

Based on data from the Youth19 Rangatahi Smart survey, Talavou o le Moana looks at ethnic and gender identity; family and faith; socioeconomic environment and housing; education, friends and community; physical, mental and sexual health and substance use and healthcare access.

The survey was carried out in Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland), Tai Tokerau and Waikato in 2019, accounting for approximately 70 percent of the Pacific population. Pacific students comprised 14.6% (1,130) of 7,721 Year 9 to 13 students from 45 secondary schools.

Talavou o le Moana builds on previous Youth2000 surveys conducted by the Adolescent Health Research Group which began in 1999 and has included information from more than 36,000 young people across Aotearoa.

Talavou o le Moana was written by Dr Analosa Veukiso-Ulugia, Sarah McLean-Orsborn, Professor Terryann Clark, Brad Drayton and Dr Esther Yao from Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland and Brooke Kuresa and Associate Professor Terry Fleming from Victoria University of Wellington. It is available at

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