Since joining Counties Manukau Health (CM Heath) Mental Health Service in 2016, Maria Victoria Astillero has been helping her Filipino community to understand how the health system works and raising awareness about the importance of seeking support for mental health when needed. 

Currently employed as a Clinical Team Coordinator, Maria works alongside the team managers and the clinical team composed of psychiatrists, nurses and allied health professionals, and supports the clinical operation of Matariki - Mental Health Service.

“I review all referrals to Matariki. We receive referrals from various ethnicities including Filipinos with mental health issues. Not many Filipinos access mental health support due to disengagement with the service.  Stigma and discrimination are primary barriers despite mental health distress.   

“Every time I have the chance, even outside work, I listen and validate people’s feelings, and educate about the importance of accessing mental health services. I tell them it is ‘ok to reach out for help’ and explain it is considerably important to involve our family and friends. I always tell them that our body needs holistic care for us to be able to function well.”  

According to Maria, many Filipinos leave their country to work on jobs that can uplift the social and economic condition of their families back in the Philippines.

Moving to New Zealand is an exciting yet challenging process and it will take time to adjust.”

Maria comes from the Bicol region in the Philippines, the second youngest in a family of eight and the only one who lives overseas.

I graduated as a social worker in the Philippines in 1991. Before coming to New Zealand I had been working for five years as the Head of the Social Services Department at King Fahad Specialist Hospital in Saudi Arabia. I moved here in 2012 under the Skilled Migrant Programme. There was a shortage of social workers in New Zealand then and many of my friends encouraged me to come.”

“Cultural shock is one of the challenges I had. In being exposed to a new environment and culture I felt socially isolated, had limited support and was away from my family in the Philippines. Because of our high level of resiliency, we are able to cope with challenges when abroad by connecting with friends, navigating resources and maintaining social contact.”

Arriving in New Zealand, Maria first worked as a mental health professional in a NGO for three years before joining CM Heath Mental Health Services in 2016.

Maria is also a member of the Filipino Social Workers group in South Auckland. They meet regularly to share experiences and identify Filipinos who have arrived in the country and need support.

“We educate them in how to connect to relevant organisations and support networks, access services, find or access suitable employment, provide emotional support and a little financial support if needed.

“Filipinos love food and party. We celebrate festivities like Barrio Fiesta and food is always available as part of our tradition. Barrio Fiesta enables us to feel closer to home and gives us an opportunity to share similar issues and expand our network of support.

Maria says that Filipino values, cultural practices and attitudes are similar to other ethnicities.

“We are family orientated, religious, respectful and resilient which is similar to CM Health’s values. We start and end a meeting with a karakia and throughout the day during our work we promote kindness and value everyone in our team and the diversity of the people we support.

“’Bayanihan’ is a fundamental aspect of Filipino culture which means working together as a community to achieve a common goal. It permeates everything I do.”

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Counties Manukau Health staff are celebrating Barrio Fiesta this week.

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community mental health

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