These tough experiences, coupled with pandemic fatigue, can put strain on our whanaungatanga/relationships with each other, especially when our whānau or family are experiencing distressing thoughts or trauma at the same time.
If someone in your whānau or family is experiencing distressing thoughts, there are ways to help them through. They might be experiencing distress for the first time or have experienced these thoughts and feelings before. Either way, when someone we care about is having a tough time, it can be hard to know what to say or do, especially when we can’t do some of the things we used to.
To give some guidance on how to tautoko/support your loved ones, we’ve pulled together some mātauranga/wisdom from people who’ve been through traumatic experiences in the past, peer support leaders, hauora hinengaro/mental health support services, Nōku te Ao: Like Minds and our own Research and Information Service. Below, they give some advice on how you can find a way through, together.
Having a kōrero
Opening up the kōrero about distressing thoughts and feelings can seem like the hardest part.
Before you open the kōrero, it’s important to put on your own oxygen mask first. Supporting someone you care about through a tough time can be challenging, so it’s important to look after your own wellbeing so you have the energy, time and perspective to be there for them, too.
You can have a kōrero by:
- Just opening the kōrero. There’s no right way to start, but an open-ended pātai/question such as “I’ve noticed you’re not yourself lately” can work well. Sometimes it can be easier to start a kōrero when you’re already doing something together, such as going for a hīkoi/walk or eating kai. If your loved one is not up to talking, allow them the time and space to work through their thoughts on their own terms. Let them know that you are ready to kōrero whenever they feel comfortable to do so.
- Validating their feelings and really whakarongo/listening to what they are saying. Try to see things from their point of view and understand what might be causing their distress. Listen carefully to how they describe their experiences and ask open-ended questions to help them describe them further. Accept your loved one’s experiences as real and true for them.
- Sharing your feelings. Ask them about how they’re feeling and share how you’re feeling too. This takes the pressure off the conversation and can help your loved one feel they’re contributing and have advice of their own to share.
- Echo back what you’re hearing. During your kōrero, it’s important to echo or repeat key points your whānau/family member or loved one is saying. This will help to clarify what you’re hearing and help you both to come up with some steps to get them support if they need it.
Deciding how to tautoko/support them
When our whānau or family are experiencing manawa pā/distressing thoughts and emotions, it’s tempting to want to get stuck in to help them - boots and all. This is because our own mānukanuka/anxious feelings kick in and we want to protect them.
However, big gestures or responses are not always helpful. If your loved one has been experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings for a while, these big gestures can seem disrespectful to the personal growth, mātauranga/wisdom and tools they’ve developed along the way.
If your whānau/family member or friend is in immediate danger to their safety, please dial 111.
Instead, you can tautoko/support them by:
- Asking them if you can help, and how. They may not want your tautoko and may already have effective tools to manage their distressing thoughts and feelings. As long as these tools are safe, respect their decisions, trust them to know what’s best for them and don’t give advice unless they ask for it. If you’re unsure if their practices are safe, call Yellow Brick Road for a second opinion.
- Being realistic about what you can offer. We all have our own personal limits, so it’s important not to promise more than you can give and to follow through on any offers you make. Remember that small, simple things can help, and that just being there for them is probably helping a lot.
- Understanding when someone is feeling unwell or recovering from COVID-19, their feelings of distress may be heightened. The COVID-19 recovery roadmap varies person by person. For those of us who experience longer recovery times, feeling tearful, frustrated, low or down are normal responses. Many people experience stronger emotions when sick or tired, and not being able to stick to a routine or do things they’ve previously done can cause further distress and frustration. It’s important to be gentle with a loved one experiencing these sorts of emotions – validating their experience can help them feel seen and supported. Try echoing how they feel and acknowledging their emotions as completely normal and justifiable for the situation they are in.
- Picking your battles and keeping your expectations realistic. Life can feel really hard right now and experiencing manawa pā or distressing emotions can make it that much harder. Ask yourself what expectations around your loved one you can let go of right now. Is now a good time to fight over a messy room? As we see COVID-19 community case numbers fluctuate, new manawa pā may present themselves, too, so it’s important to take things one step at a time and adjust your expectations as things develop.
- Owning your own mataku/fear around their wellbeing. It’s not uncommon for tautoko/support people to feel fear, too. When talking about your concerns with your loved one, try to describe how you’re feeling rather than making a judgement on what they should or shouldn’t do. For example, you could say, “I am finding myself getting worried about how much sleep you are getting and wondered if we talk about what is keeping you up so late?” rather than asking them to sleep more and not stay up late at night.
Getting through, together
Providing tautoko/support for our loved ones can be hard. It’s important to put some tools in place for both you and your loved one to use when you need to.
If your loved one is in crisis, they should still contact their doctor, hospital emergency department or mental health crisis line in your area for support.
You can provide ongoing tautoko/support for your loved one by:
- Checking in, before stepping in. When we’ve provided support to our loved one for a while, we can start to only look out for signs that things are going wrong. Try to spend time looking for signs that things are going right. Sometimes, stepping back can be harder than stepping in.
- Sharing the care. Like most things, it’s often easier to support a loved one with the help of someone else. Try connecting in-person with friends and whānau/family who can help, even if it’s just to listen, share a karakia, go for a walk or tell a funny joke. Think about who you know and what they could offer.
- Supporting your loved one to connect with others in their marae, church, temple, mosque or other faith-based organisation. Many faith-based organisations are still meeting in person, or online. Meeting with them can be a great way for your loved one to connect with others who share their same core values and beliefs and find communal support during these challenging times.
- Finding your own outlets for self-care. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or low in energy, taking some time for yourself can be refreshing and help you to put things in perspective. Try taking a hīkoi/walk outside, watching your favourite Netflix show or talking to a friend or whānau/family member you trust. If you’re not sure who to reach out to, you can free-call or text 1737 to speak to a trained counsellor at any time of the day or night.
Words of mātauranga/wisdom
These sage pieces of advice or mātauranga are from people who’ve “been there, done that” – people who are successfully managing their way through mental distress and trauma.
“People all over Aotearoa will be experiencing distressing thoughts, feelings and bodily responses due to the sudden changes and learnings happening right now. For those of us with histories of distress, we have a lens that means we may see our understandable reactions as indicators of "getting sick" which carries an increased fear of the consequences of 'crisis', further exacerbating our stress. Just because these experiences may feel similar to the intense crisis experiences we have had, they are not necessarily the same.”
“We are wise, we have learnt along the way the things that help and the things that don't. Supporters that anchor us into these assets will see us shine as we connect to our wisdom. If we have new learning to gain, supporting us to find what we need may mean that they also find what they need along the journey.”
“Although we did not choose the current situation, there is still so much we can determine for ourselves, our tino rangatiratanga, and ways we can choose to manaaki or help others in distress. For some, it’s involved a bit of a mirimiri/massage and creativity to adapt our wellness tools. We’ve also seen whānau extending their bubble virtually to manaaki to whānau-a-motu, use buddy systems to check-in and stay connected via the telephone, and texting and supporting one another to navigate the virtual ‘Zui’ environment.”
E leai se gaumata’u, na o le gaualofa.
What you do out of fear will not survive, but what you do out of love will endure (alagaupu Samoa/Samoan proverb).
Phone numbers to support you and your whānau
- If your whānau member or hoa/friend is in immediate danger to their safety, please dial 111, or 105 for non-emergencies
- Text or call 1737 for a team of free, trained counsellors who are available 24/7
- Call 0800 ANXIETY (269 4389) for specific questions around your or your loved ones’ mānukanuka/anxious feelings
- Call or visit Yellow Brick Road New Zealand’s website for support for the whole whānau
- Call 0800 POUNAMU (768 626) for Māori-led hauora hinengaro support for yourself or your loved one
- Call Asian Family Services on 0800 862 342 if you are looking to reach out to someone from a similar culture or are not fluent in English
- Call 0800 Ola Lelei (0800 652 535) to have a phone talanoa/conversation about what you or your loved are going through from a Pasifika perspective
- If you or your loved one are also living with addictions, call 0800 787 797 for more support
- See our helplines resource for more numbers.
Websites and online tools
- Use Just Ask, Just Listen’s tips on opening the kōrero around manawa pā/distressing thoughts and emotions
- If you are a new parent or supporting someone who is pregnant, see Perinatal Anxiety Depression Aotearoa’s COVID response resources
- Watch this video by Tagata Pasifika on how to spot if someone in your family is experiencing manawa pā/distressing thoughts and emotions
- Access this volunteer service to request practical help, such as picking up medication, from people in the community.