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Cook Islands Debate on SDGs focuses on mental health

Avarua, Cook Islands - Following the success of the first Parliament Speaker’s Debate on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a second debate, on Thursday 8th February, brought together people to openly discuss issues around mental health in the Cook Islands.

People from all walks of life gathered at the National Auditorium to listen to a panel discuss mental health provision and ask questions in relation to mental health issues that touch the lives of many ordinary citizens.

In her opening statement, the Speaker of the Parliament of the Cook Islands, Honourable Niki Rattle, said that the Speaker’s Debate was key local initiative aimed at challenging and changing public attitudes to mental health.

“It is time that we do away with the stigma attached to mental health,” said Hon. Rattle.

“Mental health is the same as any other disease such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.”

She added, “In many countries people with mental disorders and psychological disabilities do not have access to basic mental health care and treatment they require.”

“They are often excluded from community life, denied basic rights and are discriminated against in the fields of employment, education, housing and many others.”

The Speaker’s Debate was chaired by the Speaker of the House, and the debate featured a panel that included the Minister for Health, Hon. Nandi Glassie, representative of the of non-government organisation, Te Kainga o Pa Taunga, Mereana Taikoko, Mental Health Specialist, Dr Rangiau Fariu, Opposition Member William Heather, young peoples’ representative, Teuru Passfield and community advocate, Memory Mills.

Sharing her experiences, community advocate for mental health, Memory Mills lamented her experiences as a parent who lost her son to suicide after experiencing a bout of depression.

“I don’t hold a degree in psychology or have extensive knowledge in mental illness, but after losing my beloved, aspiring musical son and having previously battled depression myself, the stigma around mental illness is overbearing, especially in the Cook Islands,” said Mills at the debate.

“Those who suffer from depression, due to a traumatic experience or a chemical imbalance, are instantly labelled as ‘mental! Why? Mental illness can range from anxiety all the way to schizophrenia.”

“Our kids need to know that even the most severe depression is treatable. So, if depression is keeping them from living the life they want to, they need to know that there are other options to help them. Even for us as parents to be able to support them in that process,” said Mills.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), of the 17 Global SDGs, Targets 3.4 and 3.5 under Goal 3 are linked to mental health.

Target 3.4 requests that countries “By 2030, reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being.”

Target 3.5 requests that countries “Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol.”

The Effective Governance Team Leader for the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, Dyfan Jones added that the inclusion of mental health in the SDGs ensures that no one gets left behind.

“The inclusion of mental health and well-being in the SDGs, sees for the first time, that world leaders are recognising the promotion of mental health and well-being as a crucial factor in the global development agenda.”

He added, “Initiatives like the Parliament Speaker’s Debate are groundbreaking activities that provide a forum for citizens, civil society, Government and Opposition to share their views on key issues and hopefully spur opportunities for further action.”

The Cook Islands Parliament Speaker’s Debate is part of a programme of support by the Pacific Parliamentary Effectiveness Initiative (PPEI) implemented by UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji with funding support from the Government of New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).

The UNDP PPEI is a three-year programme implemented in collaboration with the Parliaments of Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu, focusing on a number of areas including improving procedures and processes in Parliament and building the capacity of MPs and Secretariat staff.

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