Pacific / Cook Islands

New study to look into mental health in the Cook Islands

14:24 pm on 30 May 2020

An Auckland University study aims to provide a better understanding of how the Cook Islands are impacted by mental health issues.

Psychologist Sam Manuela's survey on Rarotonga will identify experiences and history of mental illness, prevalence of diagnosis and symptoms.

Dr Sam Manuela Photo: Auckland University

Dr Manuela, who is himself a Cook Islander, said the data currently available was limited.

"We only have data for those that have had engagement with a health service, so we are not entirely sure of the mental health state of the general population which hasn't engaged with the mental health services.

"This study is trying to capture a lot of that information that is not currently unavailable.

A range of screening tools would be used that can pick up cases of anxiety and depression.

"We identify those who have symptoms that might meet the threshold which would suggest that they may meet the criteria to be diagnosed."

People would also be surveyed and asked if they had ever received a diagnosis from a doctor in their lifetime and within the last 12 months.

"What we are able to achieve with that is getting information on diagnosis as well as information on symptoms.

"From there what we can do is compare the rates of actual diagnosis with the rates of potential prevalence within the population."

Dr Manuela said such surveys were done regularly in New Zealand, but this will be the first of its kind for the Cook Islands.

"We're quite excited to understand the mental health landscape."

Dr Manuela said he hoped the Cook Island Ministry of Health could use the information to identify high priority areas within their services and to look at patterns so resources could be directed where needed.

He said despite stigma around mental health there was a hope the study's community-focused approach and long build-up would allow people to feel more comfortable to participate in the process.

His study is funded by the New Zealand Health Research Council