Your past

What’s happened in your past can affect you today

There may be some things that have happened to you that make it more likely you might experience distress. Family history, childhood, upbringing and even genetics can play a part.

Your childhood

Not everyone is brought up in a mostly stable and loving family (whānau). If you had a lot of ongoing challenging experiences in your childhood, it could have an impact on your mental health later in life.


It’s well known that tough stuff in childhood can lead to distress in children (tamariki) and adults. Experiences such as parents splitting up, the death of a whānau member or friend, drug or alcohol use and money problems can all increase the risk of depression and anxiety.

Another big risk factor for depression and anxiety is childhood trauma. If you’ve seen a family member being abused physically, emotionally or sexually, or you are a victim abuse yourself, the effect can be serious and long-lasting.

Children (tamariki) who grow up in a violent and abusive environment are likely to see the world as an unpredictable, frightening and often dangerous place. If nothing is done about it, the response of fear and helplessness, anger and upset can continue into adulthood. Read more about trauma.

It’s important to know that a tough childhood is no sure sign that you’ll experience depression or anxiety later in life. Distress is usually related to a combination of factors, and we all have things that help protect us against the effect of challenging experiences, such as a loving parent or good friends.

If you think it would be good to talk (kōrero) to someone about childhood trauma, talking therapy may be the way to go.

Family history and whakapapa

There is evidence that shows that an increased risk of depression or anxiety may be genetic or linked to your whakapapa.


Depression and anxiety can be common in families and whānau. But just because a whānau member has had depression or anxiety at some stage, doesn’t mean that you will too. Even if you do have a whānau history of depression or anxiety, there is plenty you can do to improve your resilience (inner strength).

Check out the info on the stay well section of this site for ideas of how you can strengthen your wellbeing to reduce the chances you will experience depression or anxiety. 

When thinking about our whakapapa and family history, it’s worth going back further than to our parents or grandparents. Things that happened generations back can also affect us today. This ‘intergenerational trauma’ can be passed down without you knowing it, and have an impact on your mental health now. For example, the loss of land or an injustice can be felt down through the generations. It’s important to remember that the strengths of your ancestors are also passed down to you. Their ability to get through hardship is yours, too.

childhood playground

What next

Once you understand what is contributing to the way you feel, you can learn what to do to start feeling better.

How to get better

Other people's stories

Losing my grandfather was awful

I was in the earthquake

My worlds clashed

I felt different

Stress in my childhood built up