Objectives: The first objective was to develop a culturally appropriate research method to investigate Samoan perspectives on mental health issues. The second objective was to apply this to identify cultural values and understandings important in the care and treatment of Samoan people with mental health problems.
Method: Gender-specific focus groups consisting of Samoan elders and service providers were facilitated by Samoan researchers in the Samoan language. Systematic analysis of the transcripts, adapted to the cultural context, were conducted in Samoan and later translated into English.
Results: A culturally derived method, referred to as Fa'afaletui, reflecting Samoan communal values and familiar institutional structures within the community, allowed each focus group to come to a consensual view on issues discussed. The Samoan self was identified as an essential concept for understanding Samoan views of mental health. This self was described as a relational self and mental wellness as a state of relational harmony, where personal elements of spiritual, mental and physical are in balance. Mental ill health was sometimes linked to breaches of forbidden and sacred relationships, which could be addressed effectively only within protocols laid down in the culture. Additional stressors contributing to mental ill-health were identified as low income, unemployment, rising housing costs and the marginalization of Samoan cultural norms in New Zealand. Participants identified the need for a culturally based mental health service for Samoan people to address key cultural factors.
Conclusions: The Fa'afaletui method is a new research method which is sensitive and responsive to Samoan cultural norms and is methodologically rigorous. Such an approach may be relevant for other Pacific Island cultures and other cultures, which have a strong emphasis on collectivity. The Samoan concept of self provides a theoretical foundation for understanding the mental health needs of Samoan people and a basis for developing appropriate services.