What you can do

SUBPAGE What you can do Excluding

There is no wrong or right. Feel empowered that you are on the right track.

  • Ask the person about what it’s like for them.

    Mental distress is very common – most of us will experience it at some point in our lives. Yet, many fear talking about it, especially when the experience creates fear, shame and anxiety. If someone’s experience is intense and overwhelming they may find it hard to put into words. Be patient and show you are listening non-judgementally and that you have heard them. We often think we know what the person is going through because we’ve read up on the “symptoms” associated with a label or diagnosis, but every person is unique and experiences things differently. Let them tell you what it’s like for them. Discuss what you’ve heard and start the kōrero.

  • Mutual understanding leads to mutual respect.

    It can be hard to talk about mental distress because of shame, fear of rejection or difficulty putting our experiences into words. Creating a relaxed atmosphere where whānau feel comfortable to talk openly about their wellbeing or distress can help build trust and understanding. Opening yourself up and sharing with those close to you allows others to see your vulnerability and in turn encourages others to open up. 

  • Support the person to make their own decisions.

    Sometimes when someone you love is going through a tough time it can seem easier to make the decisions for them. Supporting others to retain their self-determination, autonomy and control over their lives leads to better long term outcomes. Even if someone is very affected by their distress and reliant on their whānau, your role as a support person should be to provide options not to decide for them. Give them your perspective without pressuring them and leave them to learn from their own decisions. In the end you need to honour the choices and decisions the person makes.

    Also see: Strike a balance between under-involvement and over-involvement

  • Trying to fix someone doesn’t help.

    Evidence suggests that people recover better when others aren’t trying to “fix” them or see their experience of mental distress as a problem to be solved. When we try to fix people we are giving them the message that they are not okay or can’t be in control of their own recovery. Healing can begin when we learn to accept our loved ones instead of trying to rescue them. Acceptance is not giving up or giving in, it is acknowledging the reality of the situation by showing unconditional love, and seeing the whole person, not just their problems.

  • Support each other to reduce shame/whakamā.

    People with mental distress often feel internalised shame or whakamā. Whānau and friends may also feel shame at being associated with the person, particularly if their behaviour in a social setting is unusual. In many cultures people have very negative views about people with mental distress and may view them as weak, strange, unpredictable, incompetent or even dangerous. This is not helpful. There are far more positive ways of viewing people with distress – such as matakite or possessing unusual gifts or as courageous in the face of a uniquely difficult experience, or as people who can bring back insights and contributions to the world based on their experiences.

  • Share your experiences and walk together with confidence.

    People with distress are often reluctant to share their experiences with others. They face complex decisions about who to share with and how much to share. One thing that whānau and people with distress have control over is how they tell their story; this can have a big impact on how their story is received. Try to highlight some positive as well as negative impacts, and tell it with confidence. When you tell the story from a whānau perspective put some focus on what you have learnt and on your respect and hope for the person, rather than on the part of the story that might reinforce negative stereotypes.

  • Strike a balance between under-involvement and over-involvement.

    It’s good to stay involved and to keep making contact even when the person doesn’t always welcome your approaches. Ask them what they need from you. Avoid making assumptions or taking their withdrawal or anger personally. Whānau need to learn to walk the tightrope between over-involvement and under-involvement. Over-involvement can feel controlling and lead to over-dependence for the person with distress, as well as resentment or fatigue for the whānau. Under-involvement can lead to a sense of rejection and isolation for the person with distress, and can only provide short-term reprieve for stressed whānau rather than a long-term, positive relationship. Open, mutually respectful communication between whānau and the person with distress is key.

  • What can I do if someone doesn’t want my help?

    If someone you care about is struggling but doesn’t reach out for help and won't accept any help you offer, it's understandable to feel frustrated and powerless. But it’s important to accept that they are an individual, and that there are always limits to what you can do to support another person.

    You can:

    • Be patient. There can be many reasons why someone may find it difficult to ask for help and it can take a while to understand what’s going on and how you can support someone, so be patient and stick by them.
    • Offer emotional support. Reassure and let them know you care about them and if they need help you’re willing to be there for them.
    • Get informed about how to seek help. Check out the Mental Health Foundation’s In crisis page and Worried about someone? page to know what options are available in your area. You can always call 1737 to get advice.
    • Look after yourself. It not a race and the journey can be long; supporting others also means supporting yourself.

    You can’t:

    • Force someone to talk to you. It takes time for someone to open up and tell you what’s up with them. Putting pressure on them to talk might create more reluctance to open up. So focus on letting them know you’re ready whenever they are.
    • Force someone to get help. As adults, we need to respect that we all need to exercise our own personal responsibility and the ability to make decisions on when and where to seek help.    
    • See a doctor for someone else. You can seek advice from a health professional, like your local GP, but they won’t be able to share specific advice or details without their agreement.

    Adapted from Mind.org.uk.