Mental distress (also known as mental illness) is different for everyone. People can
live with it and recovery does happen.
Understanding mental distress
There are many ways to understand mental distress (also known as mental illness).
Sometimes our beliefs stem from a person’s cultural or religious background but they can
also be beliefs that have formed through our experiences.
Beliefs about mental distress are often associated with negative feelings such as fear,
shame and sadness. Take a look at the beliefs below and think about your understanding
of mental distress and how you can feel more positive and constructive.
Belief about the cause of mental distress
Unhelpful, negative feelings
Finding a more positive approach
|It is a biological brain disease.
It is irreversible and for life.
It makes the ill person seem different, unpredictable and even dangerous.
It is no-one’s fault because it’s a biological problem.
|It's due to bad things happening to
||Some, especially parents or children, may
feel responsible for bad things happening to the person.
||People can recover and grow past these experiences.
|It's a wairua or spiritual problem.
||The person or the whānau may have brought
||We can restore balance in our spiritual and social relationships.
|It's because the person can't cope with
||Others may expect less of the person or
look down on them.
||People can learn new coping skills.
|It's because the person is lazy or
|| It's the person's fault they are
||Takes blame away from others.
People can live well with mental distress and recovery does happen
People who experience mental distress state that having others believing in them is key
to their recovery. The best things whānau, friends and acquaintances can do is hold hope
for the person, trust them to make their own decisions and support them to be full
This means they have the ability and opportunity to live the lives they want. This
doesn’t mean that someone won’t still experience some mental distress – they may, for
example, continue to hear voices – but this doesn’t mean they can’t live well.
Whānau have a different experience to those in mental distress
Whānau and friends often experience complex and difficult feelings when a loved one
experiences mental distress, for example, worry about the person’s future, anger that
this has impacted on the whole whānau, shame to be associated with the person, and guilt
that they may have helped to cause their distress or that they don’t know how to
The person with distress on the other hand often carries another type of burden –
feelings of loss of mana and status, loss of confidence, feeling they are a problem to
others, and a sense of hopelessness. It’s important to understand these different
experiences, how they interact and how they can cause tensions within the whānau. This
is often the first step to achieving better mutual understanding and respect.