What is it actually like to have a mental health condition, and is it made worse at Christmas? The rise in stress levels during the festive period can make the time of year that is meant to be the ‘merriest’ the most difficult for people who suffer from mental health conditions.
Based on independent research*, 63% of those who suffer from mental health conditions, said these were made worse at Christmas, with 78% of respondents saying they suffer from a mental health condition. Overall, based on this research, 73% of people feel more stressed during the festive period with 59% of people feeling pressured into having the ‘perfect’ Christmas. All these pressures will inevitably have a negative impact on our mental health.
*If you would like to anonymously take part in the research, please complete the survey at the bottom of this page.
To look at how our mental health is affected over the festive period, it is important to note the overall figures for the year as a whole. According to the suicide prevention charity, Samaritans, someone dies by suicide in the United Kingdom & Ireland every 90 minutes. That’s a staggering 5,840 people a year and in 2014 the figure was 6,122 according to the Samaritans 2016 Suicide report.
During 2015, the Bristol Samaritans branch were contacted approximately 53,000 times by phone, text, email and visits in branch, by people needing support. However, on positive note, only 20% of the calls the Bristol branch receive, express suicidal thoughts, as 80% of callers just want a safe environment in which they can talk. This is more important during the Christmas period as people feel more stressed, lonely and depressed. This year, the Samaritans also ran their #RealChristmas campaign in an attempt to tackle ideas of having a “perfect” christmas, which according to independent research 59% of us feel under pressure to have. The campaign encourages people to share their christmas stories of when it hasn’t gone to plan. Some of the stories they received can be found here. You can find out more about the Samaritans here and their #RealChristmas campaign here.
According to mental health charity, Mind, 28% of people living in the South West feel they are pressured into having a ‘perfect’ Christmas, which is also their average for the country as a whole. You can read more on Mind’s research here and see the West Country figures (published by ITV) here. The reality is that these ideas rarely come to fruition for many reasons including; struggling financially or feeling lonely and isolated, which according to Mind, 16% in the South West feel more at Christmas time.
Another mental health charity is ‘Off the Record’ (OTR), who are based in Bristol. OTR provides support for young people aged 11-25. They see approximately 3,000 young people a year, and help them with various issues and mental health conditions. They also receive more calls in the period running up to Christmas. Liam McKinnon, OTR’s Head of Marketing & Communications says why they tend to receive more calls in the run up to Christmas, but also why they decide to close over the period. You can visit OTR’s website here. You can also visit them in branch, which is shown on them map below.
The Avon & Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership (AWP), which is part of the National Health Service (NHS) have given their advice on how to look after our mental health over the festive period, which include; keeping things in perspective, and take time out for yourself. You can see the rest of their advice and tips on coping at Christmas here.
One mental health problem which can take over your life is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). OCD is different as it can effect every aspect of a persons day-to-day life and in its most chronic form, can essentially stop you from living a normal life, and unintentionally put pressure on those around you. This can also cause a sufferer to feel depressed. It causes a sufferer to have compulsions that are obsessive. This could be something like repeatedly washing their hands or checking if a door is locked several times. However, it does effect everyone differently.
At Christmas, as with other mental health conditions, this can be made worse, especially if you feel like you have ruined it for everyone else or let people down. These feelings of letting people down or ruining it, can make the sufferer feel even worse. A young women says how suffering from chronic OCD, effects her daily life throughout the year. Due to her vulnerability, her identity has been protected.
She also describes how it is made worse at Christmas causing her to feel “like I’ve let my family down”.
Christmas is not then, the best time of year for some who find it a struggle to cope for various reasons, so whether you suffer from mental health problems or not, or know someone that does, remember to remind yourself and them that it’s okay not to have the “perfect” Christmas, as it is rare any of us will ever have what we imagine to be a perfect christmas. It is also important not to hide your true feelings away as they will only get worse if they are bottled away, according to the young woman interviewed above.
If you ever need urgent help please call the Samaritans on 116 123. This number is free to call. You can also contact a Bristol based volunteer directly on 0117 983 1000, or visit the branches website here. If you would prefer a face to face meeting, you can visit the Bristol branch.