CONTENT WARNING: THIS ARTICLE DISCUSSES SUICIDE AND MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
Christmas is meant to be the most wonderful time of the year, yet the month of December also comes with pressures and stresses that have some people quickly feeling down. If this is you, be assured you are not alone and there are tools you can use to cope.
What is ‘festive depression’?
Ever felt that little boost of feel-good hormone serotonin as daylight savings clocks in, and you can finally escape the dreariness of winter? This impact of environment on mood might also be the reason some people feel particularly low during December – known colloquially as ‘festive depression’.
Depression and suicide rates
Rates of depression and suicide during the festive period are inconsistent – while some indicate high depression rates, other studies in the US and Austria found suicide rates actually fall over Christmas, followed by a sharp spike in the lead-up to the New Year.
Another 2014 study by Griffith University, which focused specifically on the state of Queensland, had similar results. Analysing 10 years of data, the researchers found suicide rates significantly spiked on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, with the researchers concluding that people at heightened risk of depression should be closely monitored.
Christmas can be one of the busiest times of the year for many mental health services, explains Julie Sweet, a Psychotherapist from Seaway Counselling and Psychotherapy in Bondi Junction. ‘That is primarily due to people being isolated or experiencing emotional cut-off and disconnection from families and friends, mental health issues, such as suffering from depression or anxiety in the lead up to Christmas, financial pressure, and generalised stress and overwhelm,’ she says.
Dr Lauren Rosewarne, Senior Social Science Lecturer from the University of Melbourne, agrees that Christmas can be a time where expectations don’t always meet reality, resulting in extreme dips in mood and mental health.
A nationwide issue
If someone is talking to you about suicide, or you are feeling overwhelmed, a professional is 100 per cent needed, says Josh Jones, Founder of the Just Be Nice Project. But there are a number of strategies you can employ if you find yourself struggling once the Christmas tree goes up.
Here’s some advice from the experts to help you get through the festive period:
Prepare for the day
Understanding what your day will entail can help you feel more in control and less isolated or disappointed. ‘Christmas Day could be spent by being alone watching a favourite movie, or volunteering, or reading a book by the water,’ says Sweet.
Lower your expectations
To our detriment, we tend to put a lot of pressure on a single day come Christmas. ‘Going into the season with modest expectations and allowing the season to unfold organically is much saner than putting excessive amounts of pressure on one day – one meal! – to be the best thing you do all year,’ says Rosewarne.
Reach out to those around you. ‘Take some time to connect with those who care about you, and let people make an effort with you if they’d like to. Be honest about where you are at emotionally with people you trust and express that you are having a tough time,’ says Jones.
Seek out services
Mental health services offer support and resources that include therapeutic interventions such as a community lunch or a mental health day. Take advantage.
If you need some space to rest and recover, take it – don’t force yourself to attend multiple events. ‘Don’t overindulge in food and alcohol, and try to move each day – even a 30 minute walk will help,’ says Jones.
Be kind to yourself
We’re often worrying so much about our families enjoying Christmas we forget about ourselves, warns Jones. ‘Remember ‘peace on Earth and goodwill to men’ starts with peace and goodwill towards yourself. Don’t over extend yourself financially just because it’s Christmas – people don’t care more about the cost of their presents than your mental health,’ he says.
You can read the full article in our December/January edition of the magazine.