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Lack of awareness of mental health issues

Taupo, New Zealand


My name is Rachel Williams and I have a story I would like to share with your readers about the consequences of a lack of mental health services in Tonga, and lack of awareness of mental health issues by Tongan people.

Two years ago my husband and I moved from New Zealand to Tonga so that my husband could take up a job with a local company in charge of growing squash. At the time my husband had undiagnosed depression, and the move to Tonga tipped him over the edge.

We are now separated and I have moved back to NZ. My husband continues to live and work in Tonga, however his personality is so altered that the lifestyle he chooses now is one that he would have hated prior to his depression. He now lives an alternative lifestyle, associating with the underbelly of Tongan society and freely participating in their recreational habits. Previously he was a high achiever who mingled easily with people from all levels of society and previously he had very little tolerance for drug takers, prostitutes and petty criminals.

Now he has more or less no contact with anyone outside of Tonga, despite having lots of friends and family in NZ and England. In my opinion he is “hiding” in Tonga because it is an easy place to remain unchallenged about his depression as nobody cares about the palangis that come unstuck.

The difficulty in treating people with depression is that often they are in denial that they need help. However, in New Zealand once someone is diagnosed with depression, there is a lot of pressure on that person to obtain help because depression is widely recognised and accepted. There is less stigma in NZ about mental illnesses than in Tonga. I have a number of friends in NZ who freely admit they have depression or schizophrenia and that they are receiving treatment for it. In Tonga, I found that people recognise the term “depression” but have no understanding of the resulting behaviour, and tended to account for my husband’s behaviour towards me (which was appalling) to the fact that he is an athiest.

It is now two years that we have separated and I can now apply for a divorce. I am glad to be able to get away from someone that I now have very little in common with. But I am also sad that I have lost my husband to depression. …

I hope that in publishing this story it will make depression and other mental illnesses more recognised, and help to remove the stigma attached, so that more people come forward for treatment.

Yours sincerely

Rachel Williams