As whānau & family

You can play a key role in your loved one's recovery

It’s difficult to watch someone in your whānau go through difficult times. But because you’re so central to their lives, there are lots of ways you can help them make positive changes.

The whole whānau can help

It can be pretty demanding caring for a family member (whanaunga) who is going through depression or anxiety. The strong sense of responsibility that comes with it can get tiring. It helps to know that they can get well and back to their usual self.

While you might be able to do some things to support (tautoko) them yourself, getting others involved could make a big difference. Friends and other whanaunga can provide emotional support as well as practical help with things like everyday chores around the house. 

Understanding what they’re going through

The more you understand about depression and anxiety, the better you’ll be able to help.

If your family member (whanaunga) has seen a health professional, you could learn about the specific diagnosis they have and the treatment and support that’s available.

Taking a look around this site can help you as well. Check out the ‘Is it depression and/or anxiety?’ section or watch some other people’s stories to see how it feels for them.

Be an active part of their care

Your unique position means you can play a critical part in their treatment and overall recovery plan of your family member (whanaunga).

You have a very good understanding of your loved-one’s daily experience of mental distress and the signs or symptoms they might be showing. You also have a good view of whether treatments are or not working. You can share that information to help their health professional find the right approach.

Because depression and anxiety affect the way people think, you can be a big help simply by being with your family member (whanaunga) when discussing treatment plans with their healthcare provider. You can ask questions, make sure that everything is clearly understood and take notes of what is said. If your family member (whanaunga) agrees to it, you may also be able to share your worries about any aspect of their situation and care.

Helping older family members or kaumātua

It can be hard to start a conversation about depression or anxiety with an older family member, such as a parent, grandparent, kuia, koroua or kaumātua. But letting them know you’re concerned and giving them the opportunity to open up could make a real difference. Reassure them, let them know you’re there for them, and how much they mean to you.

There are some things many older people and kaumātua do that can make it harder to raise the issue. Many older people enjoy their independence and don’t want to be a burden:

  • They might tend to down-play symptoms and may not admit to being depressed or sad. This could be due to shame, whakamā, fear of being a burden or lack of understanding
  • They might have been brought up to be very private about their emotions.
  • They might think that being down or depressed and anxious is just a part of being older. But this isn’t the case. Depression and anxiety can be treated and recovered from at any age, so older people and kaumātua shouldn’t just give up or ignore it.

Once you have talked with your relative, discuss possible steps forward and ask which ones they would like to take and how you could support them. With their consent, it might help to talk to their doctor. Another possibility is to find a psychiatrist who specialises in the care of older people.

If older people or kaumātua become preoccupied with changing their will, giving away personal possessions or talking about death, it is serious. They may be at risk of suicide. See the information at the end of this page about getting immediate help.

Helping young people (rangatahi)

Adolescence is an amazing time of great change and growth and yet at the same time, rangatahi can experience some tough challenges. When they’re dealing with depression or anxiety on top of everything else, it’s even tougher. If they know you’re a good listener and won’t give them a hard time, it’ll be a lot easier for them to ask for help.

There are things you can do that may help your rangatahi to talk about what’s happening for them and make it easier for you to support them:

  • let them know you’re always there for them no matter what is going on, but also encourage them to talk (kōrero) to others. They might find it easier to open up to someone else.
  • be patient. They might not want to share things right away.
  • try to understand the situation from their point of view. Show you understand them by saying things such as, “I understand that you are feeling …” or “It sounds like you feel ….”
  • let them know you’re glad they spoke up. It probably took a lot of courage and it’s the first step to recovery.
  • believe them. Take them seriously. Don’t ignore the problem or tell them it’s not important.
  • keep calm. If you’re getting upset, take some deep breaths or take a break and come back to the conversation later.
  • using ‘I statements’ is a good way to say what you think without blaming or criticising. Try things like, “I’ve noticed that …”, “I feel …”, and “I’m worried about…” Try to avoid “You seem….”
  • talk about the behaviour you’re worried about, and show you care. For example, “I’ve noticed that you aren’t eating as much as you used to. I’m getting a bit worried.”
  • try not to judge. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, but it might mean holding your tongue. 

Thank you to Common Ground for these tips.

The Lowdown has been built especially to help rangatahi learn what’s happening to them, and what to do about it. The information is presented in a way they understand, by young people like them.

Do you need immediate help?

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 to 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.

What next?

Take a good look around the rest of this website to understand more about depression and anxiety and what can help. Check out the videos of people who share their stories and how they got through.

Other people's stories

I korero with whānau

I celebrate my successes

I look for positive things

I put myself first

I plan my day

I gave myself a break