‘I hit rock bottom’: Broadcaster Niva Retimanu reveals her fight with grief and depression

November 8, 2019 in DunedIn

Just Listen is a seven-part mental health podcast series, exploring how to support a person in serious and ongoing mental distress. Six New Zealanders and their support people share their mental health journey and challenges with journalist and host Juliette Sivertsen. Made with support from the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, and Like Minds, Like Mine.

Niva Retimanu remembers not being able to tie up her shoelaces.

The award-winning Newstalk ZB newsreader was living a party lifestyle, drinking, smoking, not eating properly and socialising non-stop. Retimanu didn’t know it at the time, but later learned she had been covering up the grief after the deaths of her parents, which led to depression.

Listen to Niva Retimanu’s full story in the Just Listen podcast, here.

“I was in denial. I was young, I didn’t know any better, being Samoan I didn’t have any support and I was in such denial I just turned the other way and decided to party, to not deal with any issues. And so I hit rock bottom,” she says.

She decided to see her GP, who encouraged her to make lifestyle changes one step at a time.

“I thought, if I don’t stop this, I’m going to be 6 feet under.”

At her first therapy session, she talked and cried non-stop for the first 48 minutes. She’s now a passionate advocate for talk therapy and is open to her friends, workmates and gym buddies about going to a counsellor.

“I have to own my truth, know my truth, accept my truth and live my truth.”

Over time, Retimanu learnt to set clear boundaries for herself, especially regarding social events, in order to manage her depression. Boundaries and a routine ensure she can flourish in her job as breakfast radio newsreader, which requires her to be up at 3am each weekday.

Retimanu says one of the hardest changes she made was saying no to social events. She says she initially felt ashamed, and like she was disappointing her friends. But they rallied to support her.

Niva Retimanu, newsreader for Newstalk ZB, carried deep grief after the deaths of her parents, which led to depression. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Niva Retimanu, newsreader for Newstalk ZB, carried deep grief after the deaths of her parents, which led to depression. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Retimanu says friends can show support to a person with mental distress by just being there physically.

“You don’t always have to ask what’s going on. Silence can speak volumes.”

Retimanu says it’s also important that if a person is visibly upset, to let them express that emotional release.

“Just let that person let it go. If someone is crying, I never say, what’s wrong? How can I help? Because people don’t want to tell their story. It’s a release and just let it happen and say I’m there to give you a hug. Just let it out.”

“I don’t ask questions, because I don’t think that’s the appropriate time for them. The crying is to be done. Because some people cry for a long time, some people don’t. By not saying something and listening, [that] is the appropriate thing.”

As part of her commitment to owning her own story, Retimanu knew it was important to open up to her personal trainer, Alex Flint, about her struggles.

Flint says there’s a balance as a trainer to know when to push and when to hold back.

“If she’s been under the pump with extra work or extra hours, then it’s not the right time to push.”

Flint says it’s crucial for New Zealanders to keep talking about mental health, and to learn to be aware of who might need help in their communities.

“It really comes down to individuals to help and support those who might need some lifting up.”

Listen to Niva Retimanu’s full story in the Just Listen podcast, embedded at the beginning of this article.

Niva and Alex’s tips for supporting someone with depression

• Let a person cry, even if it makes you uncomfortable.
• Recognise and act when your friend or loved one might be under additional stress.
• Respect boundaries and avoid guilt-tripping someone for not showing up to a social event.
• Don’t ask too many questions if your friend doesn’t want to talk.
• Keep up the conversations and show empathy.


If you are worried about your or someone else’s mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)

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)

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.​

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