Mental health services are being stretched after a television ad campaign about depression, starring former All Black great John Kirwan, worked too well.
The advertisements soared to success, largely due to Kirwan, who helped destigmatise a condition that he also suffers from, the Mental Health Commission said.
Commission chair Ruth Harrison said that as a result of the successful campaign the demand for mental health programmes - particularly counselling services - had "rocketed".
People who needed the free services were often facing waiting lists, and some were opting to pay private health providers rather than wait until they reached the top of the list, she said.
It was not possible to obtain exact District Health Board waiting list figures for depression, as many people also presented with other related health issues.
It is understood that in some cases people who sought psychological help had chosen to simply drop off the lists, rather than wait until they could be seen.
Ms Harrison said the advertisements had an important message and it was vital people who were worried about their mental health did not wait until they were clinically depressed.
Kirwan volunteered to front ads after being involved in the Ministry of Health's anti-discrimination Like Minds, Like Mine campaign that started in 2000.
For his work on the campaign Kirwan was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) in the Queen's Birthday honours list.
Ministry senior analyst Candace Bagnall said the $6.9 million taxpayer funded campaign, including Kirwan's ads, would last at least until the end of June 2009.
She said people were aware of depression, but there was a lack of knowledge about what to do about it.
"So that's what we're trying to do with this campaign, give people some tools and some skills to better respond to it," she said.
Since the advertisements aired, a ministry helpline manned by trained counsellors was fielding between 50 and 300 calls a day from people concerned about their mental health.
She did not regard services as overstretched, with only about 10 per cent of callers being referred to specialists.
The majority of the callers had much milder symptoms, which could often be managed with proper diet and exercise advice.
There were also some internet-based therapies that callers were encouraged to work through.
She said people were more inclined to go to counselling services rather than visit their GP.
The Royal College of General Practitioners said they did not have exact figures of those seeking help, but anecdotally there was a rise in those visiting doctors for advice on depression and other mental health issues.