What is ‘mental distress’

Explaining what the term means
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We all experience tough times in life that impact on our mental health. For some of us, those tough times last for a long time or can be very intense, which can significantly affect our wairua/spirit and our lives in all kinds of ways. For example, some people may experience a change in their thoughts, feelings and behaviours, or may not feel like they are their ‘usual selves’. These experiences and many others are what we refer to as "mental distress" - experiences that might have similar symptoms to a mental illness, whether they're medically diagnosed or not.  

Whatever term someone uses to describe their mental distress is up to them. They don’t necessarily have to identify with the term ‘mental distress’, ‘mental illness’ or with a medical diagnosis - it’s their right or mana motuhake to choose their own description.

Who experiences mental distress?

Mental distress is a common part of life – one in five people in Aotearoa experience it every year. 

Some communities are more likely to experience mental distress than others. For example, one in three Māori and one in four Pasifika people experience mental distress every year, a higher rate than the national average of one in five. This is an equity issue and something we are passionate about addressing.

Why do we need to challenge mental distress discrimination?

He tangata tonu te tangata, ahakoa te aha. 

A person is still a person, no matter what.  

Being judged or discriminated against for experiencing mental distress is a heavy load to bear. People living with these experiences need aroha, understanding and respect during their toughest times, but are sometimes met with negative words or behaviours and excluded by people they know and love. 

Being judged or discriminated against is more than just hurtful – it's harmful. Mental distress discrimination can affect people’s access to employment, housing, healthcare or insurance, prevent people’s recovery and even discourage them from seeking support when they most need it.  

Unfair judgements and discriminatory actions against people who live with mental distress are deep-rooted in many areas of our lives. Although we’ve made great strides in tackling mental distress discrimination over the years, ending it requires long-term action and commitment. 

You can find some statistics about the impacts mental distress discrimination has on people in Aotearoa here