Te Oranga Hinengaro

Mental health from a Māori perspective
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Takahia te ara ki te ao tūroa 
Keep walking the path of enlightenment 

Enlightenment comes from understanding the spiritual, relational, mental, physical and natural environments that we live in. It is a life-long journey. We encourage you to have an open mind and an open heart along the way.

Māori approaches to mental health

Māori understand mental health is part of the holistic wellbeing of a person and the world that they live in. Mental health and mental illness are related to the physical health of the person, the health of the relationships they have with those around them, their spiritual health and even the health of the natural environment they live within. This differs from Western clinical approaches where mental health is often looked at on its own.

Both Māori approaches and clinical approaches to mental health can work together in many cases to support someone’s wellbeing. It is really important, however, that we understand what makes Māori approaches unique. 

Māori approaches to mental health include things like cultural identity, whakapapa (genealogy), wairuatanga (spirituality) and mauri (life force). Health models like Te Whare Tapa Whā help us to understand Māori approaches to health. Treatment might include whānau in the process, with the use of things like pūrākau (traditional stories), karakia (prayer or incantation) and rongoā (traditional healing methods).

Below are introductions to some of the key Te Ao Māori mental health and wellbeing concepts. We encourage you to explore these concepts more in your own life, to get a sense of the deeper meanings they have and how they might work for you, your whānau and those you support. 

  • Ask your own whānau, friends or even work colleagues what they might know about these concepts
  • Check out your local library for books about Māori health and wellbeing
  • Look online for any other resources, such as documentaries 
  • Have a look at what mental health, health or social services are in your area – they may be able to provide more culturally appropriate support for you or your whānau


For Māori, wairuatanga is woven through our belief systems, our values and cultural practices and is a really important part of wellbeing. It is usually translated as “spirituality” – while this does reflect the general meaning of wairuatanga, there are many more layers to it. Wairuatanga is what is felt and not seen; it is about having an awareness or being in tune with the energies around us.

Wairuatanga and wellbeing

Sometimes we might experience things physically – in our puku (our stomach) or even all over our bodies – that make us feel a bit uneasy. This can be our wairua letting us know that something is off or not quite right. For some people, however, these experiences might be more unsettling, including hearing voices or seeing things that might not physically be there. In Te Ao Māori, those who have the ability to tune into these are often called “Matakite” (seers).

If we break down the word “wairua”, we get another understanding of what this concept means:

“Wai” is water and “rua” is two – the two waters that flow within us.

These two sacred waters can reflect the female and male lineage within each of us that we inherit through whakapapa. It can also refer to the living realm (te ao kikokiko) and the spiritual realm (te ao wairua). When thinking about wairua in this way, it is important to remember that it is about balance – by maintaining balance in our life, we support ourselves to stay well. 

Wairuatanga and balance

Wairuatanga encourages us to remember our past, it reminds us to be in tune with the present moment, and it also reassures us so we can be okay with the unseen or the unknown. 

Mauri/Life force

Mauri is often described as a person’s (or object’s) life force. Mauri ora is the wellness of our life force or energy. If we are in a state of mauri ora, we can interact with our world in meaningful ways and reach our fullest potential. 

Mauri can move across the spectrum of wellbeing or ill health. This can include “mauri moe”, “mauri oho”, “mauri ora” and “mauri tau”. We may experience being in these different states at different times of our lives, or it may even depend on the situation we are in.

Mauri moe means that the life force is sleeping (in an unconscious state) – there is untapped potential. You may feel sleep-deprived, unwell, depressed or anxious. 

Mauri oho means that the life force has been activated (proactive state) – you have begun to take action and are making connections. You may feel like you can care for yourself and others.

Mauri ora means that the life force is alive (state of wellness) – your potential is being realised. You may feel well, have clarity in your thought and actions and be full of life.

Mauri tau means the life force is in balance and we are settled or in tune with ourselves. 

Te Whare Tapa Whā

Te Whare Tapa Whā health model was designed by Sir Mason Durie in 1984. It is about maintaining balance between the five key dimensions of health. 

These include:

  1. Taha wairua (spiritual wellbeing)
  2. Taha tinana (physical wellbeing)
  3. Taha hinengaro (mental wellbeing)
  4. Taha whānau (social wellbeing)
  5. Whenua (environmental wellbeing)

The five dimensions are likened to the four walls of a house or whare and while not an official part of Te Whare Tapa Whā, our connection with the whenua/land forms the foundation. If we are able to maintain connection and balance between each of these domains and also with our environment, then the whare or the person will stand strong and thrive.

Te Whare Tapa Whā and wellbeing

Sometimes we might feel a little out of balance, and, as a result, we cannot move into or maintain a state of mauri ora, being well. We can use Te Whare Tapa Whā as a way to think about our own wellbeing and some of the areas within ourselves or in our lives that might need a bit of attention.

Taha wairua
If you are feeling disconnected from your belief system, your spirituality or even a “higher purpose”, it may help to think about ways you can reconnect, e.g. writing down things that are important to you, speaking to those who support you – culturally or spiritually – or taking a moment to learn or recite a karakia.

Taha tinana
If you are feeling tired and unmotivated, it may help to think about ways that allow you to “move” and stay active, e.g. spring cleaning, going for a light bush walk or dancing with your tamariki.

Taha hinengaro
If you are feeling down or anxious, it may help to think about ways you can reach out to someone you trust and have a kōrero. Using karakia can also help to support mindfulness in your life. 

Taha whānau
If you are feeling disconnected from your whānau, friends or loved ones around you, it may help to think about ways you can create some meaningful moments together. It might start with a text or videocall to let them know you are thinking about them. It may also help to organise an activity together, e.g. go for a walk, do some whakapapa research together or visit a loved one together.

If you are feeling disconnected from the natural environment around you and don’t feel like you have a place to stand or belong, it may help to dedicate some time each day, week or month to be outside. This can be as simple as visiting the ocean, river, bush or maunga that might be nearby. For Māori, it is important to make time to return to your ancestral whenua, moana or marae to establish or strengthen those connections.

The pursuit of wellbeing

The definitions explored above are introductions to very important aspects of “oranga” or wellbeing from a Māori perspective. Wairuatanga and mauri are woven into most aspects of Te Ao Māori and are best understood within a particular context.

The pursuit of wellbeing is ongoing, and we will require different levels of support along the way. Keep asking questions, keep being open to learning and take one step at a time.

Takahia te ara ki te ao tūroa! 

Thank you to Sutherland Self-Help Trust for helping us bring this content to you.