No rest for mental health workers during festive season

Warren Barnsley
(Australian Associated Press)

 

It’ll be business as usual for mental health support workers on Christmas as feelings of loneliness and the pressure to be happy heighten amid the festivities.

Suicide prevention service Lifeline is expecting 2,500 calls on Christmas Day and more in the days after as people’s difficulties feel more “acute”.

“It’s a time when there’s a lot of societal pressure to celebrate,” Lifeline spokeswoman Ina Mullin said on Sunday.

“This pressure can bring people to breaking point when they’re already feeling overwhelmed.

“We usually find more people call us post-Christmas. This may be because in the lead up to Christmas there is plenty of change to routine.”

Lifeline volunteers will spend time away from their own families to take calls over the period.

The organisation has advised people alone on the day to reach out by volunteering at a charity or attending community events.

Brendan Nottle, the Salvation Army’s Melbourne commanding officer, said attendance at charity events in lead up to Christmas has doubled on last year.

“People aren’t there for the food. They’re there for something else. It’s actually about the company and the connection with other people,” Major Nottle told AAP.

“Of all the times of the year, I think it’s this time that’s the most isolating for so many people.

“People are reminded particularly through advertisements what they don’t have.”

The Australian Medical Association says preparation can reduce the stress of the season.

“Pressure and stress can build up due to housing more people, shopping, cooking, entertaining, or travelling,” AMA president Tony Bartone said.

“This can place severe pressure on people, which can lead to symptoms of anxiety, anger, and difficulty sleeping.

“The key is to get organised and delegate the jobs where possible.”

Meanwhile, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the federal government was exploring the creation of “safe spaces” for adults with mental health issues.

The idea is an extension of the Headspace concept that has been launched for youths, which fills the gap between the GP and hospital.

He also urged people feeling anxious, lonely or depressed over Christmas to reach out.

“Over this period, I want to encourage those seeking help to visit the Head to Health website – a dedicated online destination that helps people find free or low-cost online and phone mental health services in a private, secure and anonymous way,” he said.

Lifeline 13 11 14

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