By RNZ

Calls and texts to the Government's free national mental health helpline have risen sharply since the start of alert level 4.

The number of calls to 'Need To Talk 1737' is up by 40 per cent within the past five days, as people seek counselling over issues such as financial anxiety or worries about children.

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Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson was not surprised and said he himself had suffered.

"It is perfectly OK to feel upset, fearful, anxious, angry. I myself live with bipolar and, in the first week of lockdown, I really struggled with depression and anxiety as the stress really added on... it is really good people are asking for help."

National Telehealth Service runs the line and its chief executive, Andrew Slater, said his team was hearing from a number of first time callers and texters.

"Over the last few weeks we have seen much higher levels of people needing support. We have seen a bit of tension within bubbles. People are concerned about employment, social circles and parents needing support to deal with children."

Other reasons for calling included isolation worries and drug and alcohol problems.

In April, 50 per cent of calls to the National Telehealth Service mental health services were answered in 20 seconds, Slater said.

Need To Talk 1737's tips for dealing with stress

• Do things that ground you - practical tasks like organising the garage or cupboards, completing home projects, just organising things can be a good way to feel more grounded
• Maintain - or maybe start - daily routines … things like when you have meals or showers, or exercise
• Give each other space - make sure that everyone in your 'bubble' has some time and space to themselves
• Be easy on yourself and the people around you.

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Jazz Thornton, co-founder of Voices of Hope, said like every storm, "this too shall pass."

"This time feels like it is going to last forever, and you may feel like you are losing everything but there is always hope for change."

Thornton said people must not allow their lives to be defined by this short season.

"As things progress and restrictions start to ease... the only thing you can do at the moment is trust and hold on to faith."

Chief executive of Emerge Aotearoa, Dr Barbara Disley, is on the mental health inquiry panel and encouraged people to keep asking for help.

"People can get support when they want it how they want it. When we are under high levels of stress, or dealing with grief then looking after the whole of your health becomes really important."

The message is clear from mental health leaders: be kind to yourself, stay connected, and use the help on offer.

After travelling the country prior to the outbreak, she noticed "there was a big gap for a range of support that worked for people - especially in the workplace".

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

To fix this problem a new platform called Ignite Aotearoa has been developed. It's a digital library designed to make it easier for workplaces to offer support to their employees. It is two years in the making and fast-tracked to help people severely impacted by Covid-19.

The platform was developed with the goal to modernise and digitise existing under-utilised and fragmented HR and EAPs (employee assistant programmes) - simply these support services are currently being used as the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

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Disley said the "workplace is a really important community context and therefore is a place that can both support people to address mental health concerns early".

Next month, the full platform will become available, including an online booking facility for virtual talk-therapy, a digital wellbeing self-assessment tool and more. Eventually, people will have access to health and wellbeing planning, support and therapy, seven days a week from their devices.

Where to get help:
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youth services: (06) 3555 906
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
CASPER Suicide Prevention
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.