Help someone

Want to help, but not sure what to do?

Often it’s easy to tell when someone isn’t their usual self, but it’s a lot harder to know what to do to help, or even how to raise the issue with them. Don’t be afraid to start the conversation. There are all sorts of things you can do to make a difference.

Whakamoea ngā maunga kia whānau ko te pai

Put to sleep the negative thoughts of the past so that goodness can prevail - Māori proverb.

Starting the conversation

It can be tricky to bring it up, but if you’re worried about saying the wrong thing, don’t be. The best way to start is to just ask them if they’re okay.

If you think someone might be dealing with depression or anxiety, you might avoid them because you don’t know what to do or say, or maybe you don’t really understand what it’s all about. This can make it harder for them to get through it. To make it go better, for both of you, here are a few tips:

  • pick a place that’s quiet and private
  • give yourself plenty of time
  • listen, more than talk. Really listen closely to understand how they’re feeling
  • save your advice for later
  • show you’re really listening
  • sit face-to-face so they can see your reactions
  • listening isn’t the same thing as agreeing. You can understand another person’s point of view without agreeing with it.
  • try to ask open-ended questions like; “How are you feeling?” or “Why do you think that?”
  • offer reassurance and hope. Say things like "Thank you for telling me this", "There is a way through this", "I am here for you".

Things NOT to do
It’s really important to be kind and accepting. The person has opened up to you, which is probably a big thing for them, so it’s important not to:

  • tell them to 'snap out of it' or 'harden up' – People cannot 'make' themselves better
  • encourage excess alcohol and drug use as a way of coping - it can make things worse
  • avoid them – they already feel alone and this can make their depression worse
  • assume the problem will just go away
  • judge or criticise them for what they’re going through
  • suggest or imply they’re weak or a burden on others.

Please take any thoughts (whakaaro) around suicide or self-harm seriously – and it’s okay to talk (kōrero) about it. Don’t leave someone alone if they say they feel unsafe.

If you think someone is having thoughts about hurting or killing themselves urgent help is needed. Emergency teams (called CATT or PES) provide 24 hours a day, 7 days a week assessment and short-term treatment services for people experiencing a serious mental health crisis. This could include safety issues.  Contact your local Mental Health Services immediately.

Keeping secrets when it comes to suicide and self-harm can be unhelpful for both you and the person. Talk with someone else or call a helpline to discuss your concerns.

Always ask permission to contact services on a person’s behalf however if you feel they are in immediate danger and they won’t give permission you may need to go against their wishes. 

If you think you need specialist advice on how to help, call the Depression Helpline 0800 111 757 or contact your local Mental Health Services.

How you can help

It might seem small, but just doing things together, being there and staying connected can be a big help.

Depression and anxiety are so common that it’s highly likely that at some point you’ll know someone who might be experiencing it. It might be someone in your whānau, a team-mate or someone from your community. People with depression and anxiety are more likely to get through with help and support (tautoko) than on their own.

Being depressed and anxious can be a really lonely experience. Sometimes the most important thing is having supportive people around or checking in. Having a coffee, watching television, phoning or texting to say ’Hi’ can help a lot. When you’re feeling down, knowing that people are thinking of you can really lift your spirits.

Often when people are feeling bad they don’t want to go out and do anything. Everything feels just too hard. So encouraging them to do something with you is a great support. It could be something small like watching funny video clips, listening to music, going for a walk or window-shopping. Think about something you both like to do.

There are different things you can do, depending on who you’re trying to help:

Other sites that can help - Support, education and information for family and whānau.
Carers New Zealand - Information and support for people in caregiver roles.
Mental Health Foundation - Information about mental health covering a range of topics.
Small Steps - A range of simple tools you can use to manage your stress, anxiety and low mood. 


Looking after yourself

If you are the main support person for someone going through depression or anxiety it can be rewarding, but it is challenging too. It could take a while for them to get through it, which is why it’s really important to look after yourself.

It’s really important to make sure you have support (tautoko) for yourself when you are supporting someone else, as it can take a lot out of you.  Talking to others who are in a similar situation may be helpful. You need to care for your own wellbeing as well as the person you are caring for, and feel OK about this.  Make time and space to look after yourself. Make sure you find opportunities to relax, have fun and take a break when you need it.  Talking to others who are in a similar situation may be helpful. Think about contacting a support network.  Exercise and sleep are also critical.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I have someone I trust to talk to?
  • Do I get enough breaks?
  • Have I got regular times for relaxation?
  • Am I getting regular exercise?
  • Am I eating nutritious meals (kai)?
  • Do I get enough sleep?

What next?

By learning more about depression and anxiety, how it is treated, and what can help, you’ll have a better understanding of what you can do to help their recovery. 

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