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Talking is the best way to stay healthy : Tariana Turia

Talking is the best way to stay healthy : Tariana Turia

I’ve just returned from a week in Brisbane, attending the international network of indigenous health knowledge and development conference at which I gave a keynote address.  

Actually I’m a pretty terrible traveller – I’m a true proponent of the saying – absence makes the heart grow fonder.  The longer I am away, the more I yearn to be at home.   It’s just as well I’ve never been asked to be Foreign Affairs Minister – I’m sure it would be hazardous to my health.

Fortunately we didn’t have much time on our hands to get lonely – we had an action-packed agenda including a range of visits to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders community health centres.  I’d have to say the services had some of the most impressive facilities I have ever seen.   Often there would be co-location (GP Services and dental as well as fitness programmes aimed at elderly care).   And I was fascinated at the use of incentives or inducements to encourage clients to come in through the doors, or to model ideal practice (ie pregnant women might be offered grocery vouchers if they stop smoking).

Queensland has stronger controls on smoking – smoking in cars with children or smoking near playgrounds can attract a $200 fine.  It gave me some great ideas!  And they’re also doing some interesting work with the use of theatre to initiate relationships with  indigenous families.    Queensland Diabetes uses indigenous actors to act and show audiences what it means to be unwell, to discuss their diabetes, and how to achieve wellness.   It’s a clever concept.  Theatre allows people a certain freedom to display how they really feel; as well as to help family members connect to the lifestyle changes that are required.

Actually it was a good prelude to this week’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which is based around the theme ‘mindfulness’ – mindfulness in the home, in the workplace, in educational institutions, in health services.   I joined with Te Oranganui yesterday, to mark the opening of this week, and in particular to focus on the ‘five winning way to wellbeing’ which are connect – learn – take notice – keep learning – be active.

It’s interesting timing that just as the Mental Health week began, Coroner Sue Johnson has been recommending a national media campaign to throw light on how to recognise and deal with a suicidal person.   It is a bold approach which follows on from Chief Coroner Neil Maclean’s recommendation last month that suicide be brought out of the shadows.

All of these initiatives – whether it be in the theatre or at home – have in common the belief that talking is good for health.   Talking is an important part of our relationships – sometimes the best value is just in hearing ourselves think.   In the United Kingdom they have the ‘Make a Pledge’ campaign.  It challenges people to make a pledge to start a conversation about mental health.    Their intentions are pretty straight up.   They want to empower people with mental health problems to feel confident talking about the issue without facing stigma or discrimination. And they want the 75% of the population who know someone with a mental health problem to talk about it too.

So maybe that’s something we can think about at home – that we each make a pledge to have a conversation about wellness; about life with those we love most.   You know all those sayings – still waters run deep.   Often those who seem most quiet and self-contained may be the people that have the most to share.   The big question we need to ask ourselves is, how mindful are we of our wh?nau?   Do we have the big conversations that we need to?   What priority do we make to connecting with each other at all levels?

Let’s talk about it – would love to hear your feedback about knowing how and when to talk.   Send me a line at tariana.turia@parliament.govt.nz.

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