To support Native Hawaiian students and their mental health, the University of Hawaii (UH) at Mānoa opened a new mental health program Ka Malu A Wa’ahila.
Ka Malu A Wa’ahila was created in response to behavioral health support that is “culturally relevant and responsive” to students, its website stated. The program says its mission is to “foster a safe, therapeutic space for our kānaka maoli (Native Hawaiian) students, faculty and staff within the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.”
In 2021, psychological distress appeared common amongst a majority of college-age students (ages 18-29), according to the Pew Research Center.
UH students like junior Kaiya LaGuardia had personal struggles during the school year and wanted to sign up for the university’s free counseling. However, she faced a long waitlist.
“It was like a very long wait,” LaGuardia told Hawaii News Now, “Which kind of is concerning, because you do have people who want the access to things, but they’re just not able to get help in that moment.”
The new program’s counseling sessions would be done alongside UH’s Counseling and Student Development Center (CSDC). These would hopefully open up more available options for counseling to students.
Ka Malu A Wa’ahila Director Dr. Jillian Freitas said to Hawaii News Now, “They [CSDC] have not historically had Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander clinicians. And so students might not have felt comfortable coming to folks who might not necessarily understand their background.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, individuals coming from Pacific Islander backgrounds may deny or hide their symptoms out of fear of being rejected from their families or communities. Often, the decision to seek out healthcare may be determined by the interests of the family as a whole.
“It’s definitely a big stigma of mental health within especially Native Hawaiian, indigenous and Pacific Islander communities of like, you just get through it and you’re gonna be fine and just focus on being with your family and you’re okay,” LaGuardia told Hawaii News Now.
Alongside western traditional psychology practices, the program’s clinicians were also trained in approaches towards wellness from an indigenous perspective, Dr. Freitas said.
“It’s about connection to place, connection to aina, connection to your past and your future, connection to your community, and connection to your better self. And so we really look at that as being our guiding force for how we think about wellness,” Dr. Freitas said to Hawaii New Now.
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