An ethnic interpretation of mental distress from the perspective of Tongan men and community leaders

Sione Vaka, Stephen Neville, Eleanor Holroyd

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4 Citations (Scopus)


Tongan people living in New Zealand have a high prevalence of mental illness and low uptake of mental health services. Rates of mental illnesses also differ between those born in Tonga and those born in New Zealand. However, little is known about the personalized and culturally shaped meaning and experience of mental distress in this population. Therefore, this research explored the meaning of mental distress for Tongan men and community leaders living in Auckland, New Zealand. The Tongan cultural framework, talanoa (talking, to tell), enabled a culturally congruent and collective approach to examining mental health-related ideologies and ensuing distress. Two talanoa groups were held (one with men and one with community leaders), with a total of 18 participants. The primary research questions focused on tufunga faka-Tonga (Tongan constructions of mental distress). Four themes emerged: fa’unga (reality), hu‘unga (directionality), ta‘anga (temporality), and tu‘unga (positionality). The analytic lens used to define reality was fa‘unga, because this concept encompasses the creation/preservation of sino (body), me‘a (thing, something), and mo‘oni (truth, real). The findings suggested that it is necessary to incorporate tufunga faka-Tonga into all aspects of service delivery to improve mental health services for the Tongan population. The Tongan community will benefit from increased awareness of tufunga faka-paiōsaikosōsiolo (biopsychosocial constructions of mental distress) and tufunga fepaki mo e fetaulaki he vaha‘a ‘o e tufunga faka-paiōsaikosōsiolo mo e tufunga faka-Tonga (intersections between biopsychosocial and Tongan constructions of mental distress) to support identification of health risks and health service seeking behaviours.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)953-961
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Mental Health Nursing
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Pacific mental health
  • ethnic mental health
  • indigenous
  • mental distress
  • tongan mental health


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