There is a desperate need to prioritise wāhine Māori maternal mental health, Hāpai Te Hauora chief executive Selah Hart says.
Hart's remarks follow the newly released Ā hurutia Te Rito | It takes a village report which reveals that suicide is the primary cause of death during pregnancy in Aotearoa and is especially concerning for wāhine Māori.
"Suicide is the leading cause of maternal death in Aotearoa, and wāhine Māori are three times more likely than Pākehā to die by suicide during pregnancy or within six weeks of birth. This is intolerable. No child should start their life bereaved," the report by The Helen Clark Foundation Mahi a Rongo says.
Hart (Ngāti Kuia, Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa) says the "appalling" situation demands wāhine Māori mental health receive top priority.
"The appalling suicide statistics for wāhine Māori during the perinatal period (the period from conception until the first birthday) reveal the desperate need for maternal mental health to be a priority to save lives," Hart said in a statement Saturday.
"Since 2006 more than half of the pregnant or new mothers who died by suicide have been Māori. This needs to be addressed and shows a lack of protection under Te Tiriti for our mothers and birthing parents."
Discrimination and stigma that young hapū māmā face is "a major contributing factor to mental distress for wāhine Māori", adds Zoe Hawke, chief executive of E Tipu e Rea Whānau Services, a kaupapa Māori health and social service providing support to young parents, hapū māmā and their pēpi.
"Kaupapa Māori organisations have worked for years on the front lines to address this crisis and the issues the report raises are, sadly, all too familiar," Hart says.
"Wāhine deserve so much better. I urge politicians to listen and make the change we all need to see."
Hart says she supports recommendations made within the report to make maternal mental health a priority in the new health system reforms in order to save lives.
"The recommendations include funding the new Māori Health Authority to hold the budget required to address these preventable details, and enable a for Māori, to Māori, by Māori commissioning approach, alongside the expansion of kaupapa Māori programmes with a particular focus on improving whānau wellbeing during the perinatal period.
"Some immediate solutions that the government could provide include extending parental leave to all parents which would enable whānau to build a strong bond and connection in the most critical time of a newborn’s life, and also understanding the huge impact other social determinates have on whānau, such as the ongoing shortages in public housing," Hart says.
Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP).
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO).
Healthline – 0800 611 116
Samaritans – 0800 726 666