If you’re likely to be spending Christmas by yourself, without your family and you know it will be hard, think ahead and arrange to spend time with people you like – and make sure you don’t drink too much!
Clinical Adviser to beyondblue: the national depression initiative, Associate Professor Michael Baigent, says Christmas is often thought of as a time to relax and forget about the pressures of the past year. However, for many Australians it can also be a time of increased stress, disappointment or loneliness.
“Being alone when everyone else appears to be with their families may heighten feelings of isolation and for people who are already vulnerable, Christmas can trigger symptoms of depression and anxiety.” Dr Baigent said.
“It’s a time when many people focus on their losses, for example, family separation as a result of distance, divorce or bereavement. Christmas can bring back painful memories or evoke strong emotions.”
Dr Baigent says some people may use Christmas as an excuse to drink too much – and drinking and feeling down is not a good mix.
“For many people, the festive season is an excuse to drink a lot. If you’re depressed and you drink too much, it can make the depression and anxiety worse,” he said. “Drinking out of necessity to cope with life’s events, low mood or the symptoms of anxiety is a dangerous pattern to fall into and can set people on the path to problem drinking and severe depression.”
Mark Gable, who is the lead singer of Aussie rock band The Choirboys and a beyondblue ambassador, has experienced depression – and loneliness at Christmas.
“During the summer of 1998, after splitting up with my wife, I was in a severe state of depression heading towards Christmas,” Mark recalled. “It was the first time I wouldn’t be spending Christmas with my family and I didn’t realise it would have the impact that it did. I was in the flat by myself and the sense of loneliness was unbearable.”
Mark says if he was ever faced with that situation again, he would plan to be around friends and do anything else other than hang around the house by himself.
“I think that if you have to face Christmas alone, then whatever you do – don’t drink,” he said.
“Drinking to overcome your problems is one of the worst things you can do, especially when you have depression. Alcohol invariably ends up dropping us off in a place that is far worse than when we started drinking.”
Dr Baigent concludes: “Social isolation is a risk factor for depression, so it is important to think realistically about the holidays and try to spend time around people who can support you.”
For urgent assistance call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Mensline Australia on 1300 789 978 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.
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