When Christmas isn’t so merry

December 20, 2022

Every year, when November comes around, the big build up to Christmas and New Year begins. Shopping centres overload our senses with the lights and sounds of Christmas, and brands convince us that their products will surely change our lives, if only we buy them. We grow up being told that the holiday period is a time for family, friends, and fun, but when Christmas and New Year finally arrive many of us don’t experience the elation that we expect to feel …

We question ourselves. What is wrong with me? Why is everyone else having a better time than me? Why aren’t I deserving of what they have? The holiday period is a time when our grief can be intensified, and we notice the empty places at the dinner table. Increased alcohol intake, financial stress and disruption to routine can also exacerbate our mental health challenges at this time of year.

Suicide rates over the holidays 

It is no surprise, therefore, that suicide rates increase exponentially over the holidays. Over a 19-year period, researchers examined suicide data from the Queensland Suicide Register on Easter, Christmas, New Year’s, Anzac Day and Valentine’s Day. The research noted a significant spike in the number of suicides on both New Year’s Day and on Christmas Eve. These statistics show that the start and end of the holiday season are when it’s important to pay close attention to those who are at a higher risk of committing suicide. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are another population where suicide risks are very high. Statistics show that suicide accounts for 4.9% of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths, and suicide rates spike after the holidays. Many live below the poverty line, and the holidays can be a stressful and depressing time.

Domestic violence rates over the holidays 
From Christmas to New Years, domestic violence hotlines and programs expect to see a 20% spike in domestic violence related calls. During this time, the Women’s Community Shelter reported they had a 30% increase in Australian women seeking beds over the holiday period. Stress, alcohol and more family gatherings all factor into these spikes. Another factor is the fact that many court systems close December 24 for up to two weeks. This takes away a lot of legal support for victims of domestic violence, and it causes them to seek alternative ways to get help like via hotlines or shelters.

Homelessness over the holidays 
Australia is facing a perfect storm of factors driving increased homelessness, with rents skyrocketing and a tight rental market making it harder to find an affordable home. With more and more people using shelters, it can be difficult for people to find safe spaces over the holidays. Stress and tension, coupled with a lack of funding, can make it difficult for the homeless population to better their situation without help. Resources disappear quickly over the holidays due to higher demand, and it leaves a lot of people with nowhere to turn.

Where can I access help over the holiday period?

There are several helplines that are available 24/7 over the holiday season:

The Mayo Clinic have some helpful tips for looking after your mental health during the holiday period. They suggest that we recognise our holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so we can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. With a little planning and some positive thinking, may we all be able to find peace and joy during the holidays.

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