Tonga Holds First National Mental Health, Disability Symposium

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Oct. 10, 2017) – Do not look at our disabilities but focus on our abilities, said Rhema Misser a person living with physical disability for 54-years during the opening of the first "Langi Ma’a: Tonga National Mental Health and Disabilities Symposium" on October 9-13.

Rhema said often at times people look at them living with disabilities, with the idea they are good for nothing.

"I experienced a lot of rejection, even though I accept the fact that disability is diverse and there are various areas that hinder us from full and effective participation in society. But that does not mean it can stop us from moving on."

He understood how people in Tonga look at persons with disabilities; where they are more focused on their disabilities and not on them as persons. 

"I encourage you of the importance to look at our capacity and potential, which is in the life of persons with disabilities. We have the capacity, patience, and ability to achieve more."

Priority

Presdent of the Tonga Mental Health and Disabilities Association Leonaitasi Hoponoa said they are making mental health a priority in Tonga. 

"Mental health is no longer a silent issue, it is in you and me and is everyone's business. We tend to forget that and the reason of having this symposium is to raise awareness of the state, place and value of mental health in our society."

At the same time, Dr Mapa Puloka, Psychiatrist Specialist and Authorized Psychiatrist in Charge at Vaiola Hospital said of the importance of becoming good role models, helping others with positivity.

Support

This symposium is a very important milestone for mental health and inclusive development in Tonga, said HE Mr Andrew Ford, Australian High Commissioner.

Australia has supported Tonga’s health system strengthening work, and has committed over $21 million pa’anga, to its current Health Support program. 

In 2016, an additional funding, nearly $5.5 million pa’anga was committed, to strengthen disability inclusion in Tonga’s health system. This also supports Tonga to strengthen its access to quality mental health care and psychosocial support.

He said the Tonga Mental Health and Disabilities Association is an all-volunteer membership, which draws together a group of concerned Tongan citizens, parents, and caregivers who work together with mental health service providers.

"They have taken on the enormous task of this national symposium and I congratulate them for their work," he said.

He said many people are not aware of the different types of mental health issues, current processes under the Mental Health Act, and the available resources within Government and in the community that can assist. As a result, people with mental illness in Tonga are often marginalized and do not receive the proper support they need, he said.

"It is hoped through this symposium, we will consider the state of the mental health system in Tonga, what is working and what is not and consider how best to support people with mental health issues, whether through improving access to medical treatment, or providing community based services and support."

Expert speakers will present on sessions including understanding mental health issues; the place and state of mental health in Tonga, available treatments, understanding psychososcial disabilities, mental health and youth among others.

The symposium is hosted by the Tonga Mental health and Disabilities Association, funded by Australian Aid.

Matangi Tonga Magazine
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