Looking after yourself & your family

There are many things you can do towards maintaining your own or someone else’s wellbeing.

The best thing you can do is talk to people you trust about how you’re feeling and ask for help when you need it.

Those of us who have experienced a mental health problem know it can be difficult talking to people about your experiences and concerns about your mental health. And sometimes the people we think or expect to be supportive are not, or are unsure about what you need. Acknowledging you are experiencing a mental health problem can be very scary, and it can be hard to ask for help because you feel ashamed and want to hide your distress.

So it’s important to know that if you are having worries, distressing feelings or frightening experiences it can really help to get support and information about what you can do for yourself, and on what is helpful for friends, family and others to do. When they understand as much as possible about what you are experiencing, it can make it easier for them to find out what they can do to support you. 

We understand there can be barriers to talking to people, for example:

  • Sometimes concerns about how others will react and beliefs about your experiences being punishment for personal failures, can make it harder to talk to others. 
  • Sometimes people think their illness is a punishment for some failure in their lives.
  • Sometimes they feel they’re being blamed by their families and loved ones as well as health professionals for their problems. 
All this can be very upsetting. So it’s really important to remember that it’s not your fault that you are experiencing a mental illness.
Here are some practical ways to assist with your recovery, or someone else’s.

Important strategies for recovery

People with experience of mental illness have found the following strategies to be useful:

  • Learn about your condition and the treatment options. Get information to help make sense of what has happened, and so you can learn what to expect.
  • Take an active part, as far as possible, in decisions about your recovery and support.
  • Work out what triggers your condition. Is it work, family, school or something else you can identify? Write in a journal when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, and look for a pattern.
  • Get support from people you trust, who expect the best for you but are able to accept how you are at any time.
  • Have the continuing support of family, whānau and friends, who know about what is happening  and understand what they can do to support your recovery.  Involve them as part of your treatment team if you wish.
  • Eat healthy meals, and avoid or really cut down the use of alcohol and illegal drugs, as these may worsen distressing experience or symptoms.
  • Accept that you cannot control everything.
  • Talk to someone. Tell friends and family you’re feeling overwhelmed, and let them know how they can help you. 

Important strategies to support loved ones

Family/whānau and close friends have found the following strategies to be useful:

  • Learn about the disorder, its treatment, and what you can do to assist recovery.
  • Understand the symptoms for what they are. Try not to take things personally, or see the person as being “difficult”.
  • Encourage the person to continue getting support, and to avoid alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Try not to focus on  blame or feeling responsible for contributing or causing factors in your loved one’s problem. Guilt, anger and other similar feelings can be common and make it harder  to recognise your positive contributions to your loved ones wellbeing, and harder for you to be that support.
  • Get support to work through how you feel about what is happening.
  • Help the person to recognise stress and find ways of coping. This may include helping to solve problems that worry them.
  • Encourage the person to be more active, but without pushing or criticising them, as this may make things worse. Accepting the person as they are and having realistic expectations for them is very important.
  • Find ways of getting time out for yourself and to feel okay about this. Caring for a family or whānau member experiencing a mental illness can be stressful. It’s important to maintain your own wellbeing.

Helping a child

Having a child or teenager with a mental illness is distressing for parents; the stress, worry and concern involved in supporting their distressed child or teenager can leave parents with little time or energy for all their other commitments and responsibilities. While there will be times when it’s necessary to focus all your energy on the child, keeping a healthy family environment is equally important. The strategies listed above are just as relevant for parents of children experiencing a mental illness as they are for adults. 

You are your child’s best advocate at school and in dealing with health professionals because you know your child best. Help teachers and health professionals understand your child, so the best solution can be worked out for them. Do not give up.

For many conditions it’s important that children are encouraged to develop and learn coping behaviours and skills, and parents play a key role to help them learn and practise these new skills.Your doctor should be able to suggest many ways to ensure your child gets the help and support they need to navigate their childhood and teenage years.

Written wellbeing plan

Many people find that having a written plan is helpful. You can call it a wellness or wellbeing plan, or whatever you choose. The value of having your own personalised plan developed by you and your doctor, or mental health professional, and perhaps with the help of family and/or any key support person, is that it can help you through difficult times by being a reminder of your wishes.

Your plan, which you write yourself,  lists all your warning signs and symptoms (things that 'trigger' your periods of difficulty), and it reminds you what you have decided to do and who you will tell if you are told you need extra treatment. These simple steps will help make sure you get the help and support you need during difficult times.


If you are worried that you might hurt yourself or are having suicidal thoughts, it’s really important that you seek help immediately.