When you see someone succeeding in their career, it’s easy to assume their life has always been great. But 28-year-old engineering apprentice Sherya Hetaraka knows from personal experience that isn’t necessarily true. After losing her dad in 2015, she battled depression and had to learn how to ask for help. Find out how Sherya got through the most difficult time in her life – and worked her way into the trades.
A few years ago, Sherya Hetarata’s life looked good from the outside. She had a great job at Griffins Foods, having worked her way up from packer to second-in-command. She was managing a crew of more than 20 people – despite being one of the youngest on the team.
In reality, she was going through the hardest time of her life. Her father had passed away, meaning Sherya lost her best friend and her strongest source of support at the same time.
Although it was difficult, she eventually sought help by talking to her bosses at Griffins.
“It took me a while, but I opened up with my bosses and they were the ones who helped me into seeing a counsellor. Because I got that help and support, I didn’t need to take time off work.”
After seeking help, Sherya was diagnosed with depression and started taking antidepressants. She also had fortnightly visits with her doctor and a counsellor for nearly a year.
“I got peace of mind from the counselling,” she says.
“I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like putting my struggles onto family or friends, because I’m the one who they all come to with their problems. My dad was the only person I went to about everything. So once he had passed it got real difficult.
“But talking about it with a counsellor was a lot easier. I knew they didn’t know me at all, so I felt like they couldn’t judge me.”
Mental health challenges are common in New Zealand, with nearly half of Kiwis experiencing a mental health problem in their lifetime.
If you’re having a difficult time like Sherya was, the most important step is to ask for help.
“Talk about it. It gets easier. Focus on yourself instead of trying to make other people happy. That’s where I think I was depressed quite a bit, because I was too worried about how to fix everyone else’s problems and not my own. Talking about it helps heaps, plus doing something you enjoy.”
If you’re going through a hard time, it’s important to seek help and remember you’re not alone.
“At times it might seem hard and you might think you can’t do it,” says Sherya. “But don’t be shy to ask for help because everyone needs help sometimes.”
Choosing the trades
While Sherya was working on her mental health, she was also thinking about a career change.
“I had a good job but it wasn’t something I could see myself doing for another 10 years. I started thinking about what I wanted to accomplish in my life and how I could make my dad proud.”
Sherya, whose iwi is Te Arawa and Ngāti Kahu, took time to think the decision through and spoke to her boss about the potential career change.
“I was stuck between engineering and social work. I’ve always wanted to help others, especially kids – mainly troubled youth with very tough backgrounds. I wanted them to know that someone cares and that things aren’t always gonna be hard.
“So I sat down with my boss. His wife was a social worker so they had done a lot of youth activities, youth camps and helping out the homeless. He explained that it’s one of the hardest jobs you can have. You need a strong heart that cannot be broken so easily due to the fact you can’t get emotionally involved.
“Hearing everything he said, I knew mentally it would take a toll on me because seeing struggling kids breaks my heart.”
Sherya had dabbled in engineering at Griffins, and the support she received from engineers in her team convinced her the trades was the right path.
“A lot of the engineers helped me out and I learned how to fix my own problems on the machines. Engineering was something I thought I might enjoy doing as a job.”
“I like taking things apart and putting them back together. I’ve always been like that. The job is exactly what I used to do when I was a kid – take things apart, put them back together. Only now it’s more extreme.”
In 2017, she handed in her resignation and began studying Mechanical Engineering Level 3 at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT).
While studying engineering, Sherya discovered that trades skills are a great way to give back to the community. She joined a volunteer project organised by MPTT, where she and other trainees did some mahi for RāWiri Community House in Manurewa.
“Our project was to restore their community vege garden that was destroyed from a car driving through their fence and straight over their vege garden boxes. We weeded all the planter boxes, trimmed back all the harakeke around the community house, fixed all the planter boxes, painted the fence and replanted all the veggies.”
For Sherya, the best part was meeting the workers at the community house.
“They are amazing at what they do. These ladies do a lot of mahi for our homeless. They bathe them, feed them and care for them every week. Being a part of the project was one of the best experiences I’ve had since I started studying.”
Having finished her pre-trades course, Sherya has now been awarded a valuable three-year engineering apprenticeship at Griffins and is on her way to getting qualified.
Where to get help
If you think you need help, a good place to start is with your GP. They can assess you, help you make a plan for your treatment, and connect you with mental health professionals like a counsellor or psychologist.
Helplines mean you can kōrero with a trained person over the phone for free. You can talk about how you’re feeling, or what to do if you know someone who may need help.
Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
- Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)
- Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
- Healthline – 0800 611 116
- Samaritans – 0800 726 666
- Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757 or free text 4202
- Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Websites that can help
- SPARX.org.nz – an online e-therapy tool provided by the University of Auckland that helps young people learn skills to deal with feeling down, depressed or stressed
- www.depression.org.nz – includes The Journal online help service
- The Lowdown is a website to help young New Zealanders understand depression and anxiety from their own perspective.