Ko e tangi fai mei he ate: Conceptualising Deliberate Self-Harm Amongst Young Tongan Women in Auckland, New Zealand
Lino, Aulola He-Polealisi Fuka
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The words of my ancestors bring to light the heart of this research, Ko e tangi fai mei he ate. Tangi means to cry and ate is a plant that is often seen of no significance and importance. The ate prefers to grow in isolated areas and conditions. The spirit of Ko e tangi fai mei he ate is a cry from a concealed place’. The cry is usually in isolation, concealed, silenced, suppressed, and entails pain and suffering where no-one has access, apart from the person crying. This study focuses on deliberate self-harm, a global phenomenon and increasingly a concern in Aotearoa New Zealand. Deliberate self-harm is often a hidden behaviour within Pacific communities. Aside from the immediate and potential physical harm it can cause the body, the psychological, social, and cultural consequences associated with deliberate self-harm deserve attention, especially the effects on young people and their families. Studies showed that Pacific peoples are three times more likely to be at risk of behaviours associated to deliberate self-harm. This increases their risk of poor mental health with links to deliberate self-harm and suicide. Much has been debated about the term deliberate self-harm and other terms used interchangeably, and the inconsistency can be problematic in gaining a clear understanding of the issue. Studies demonstrate that there are cultural differences in understanding deliberate self-harm and its influencing factors need to be understood to develop effective intervention. There has been no research to explore a Tongan perspective of deliberate self-harm. Current knowledge about factors influencing youth deliberate self-harm is limited. While studies have recommended focusing on the voices of youth, this has not been done. I decided to focus this study on the Tongan population and on the experiences of female youth. This research applied a non-clinical perspective within a community sample. Research questions for this study were: • What are young Tongan women’s experiences and understanding of deliberate self-harm? • What cultural factors impact deliberate self-harm and how? • What strategies can help prevent deliberate self-harm behaviour and acts? This study captured the voices and deliberate self-harm experiences of young Tongan women between the ages of 16-30 years living in Auckland, New Zealand, and the voices of practitioners in the field. A qualitative methodology of phenomenology was used, guided by the Kakala research framework and the cultural method of talanoa. Findings revealed that there was a deepened understanding of deliberate self-harm from a cultural perspective grounded in the young women’s Tongan culture. Tongan language and concepts were directly distinguished in their descriptions of the internalisation of harm and externalising of harm. Some of the risk factors for deliberate self-harm were influenced by tensions within participants’ Tongan worldview and the daily New Zealand world they live in. I suggest that clinical implications to practice involve frameworks and models responding to cultural needs, with an invitation to practitioners to rethink through cultural lenses their practice and engagement with young Tongan women who are at risk to deliberate self-harm.