Christmas isn’t an easy time for a lot of people. Take a look at what you can do to support a friend, family member or colleague who is struggling at this time of year.
Lifeline: 13 11 14
While many of us look towards the festive season as a chance to relax and share good times with others, the holiday period can make life more difficult for some people.
Sadly, Christmas and suicide have a symbiotic relationship. Christmas can be a lonely time for those who struggling or feeling disconnected from others. While it is a myth that suicide rates always peak right on Christmas, the emotions and stressors that occur around Dec 25 may contribute to increased suicide numbers early in the year.
Christmas after a pandemic
2021 has been an especially stressful year, right on the back of the stress of 2020.
It was reported by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare that calls to suicide prevention hotlines and crisis lines were up significantly. One in five Australians shared that they experienced high to extremely high levels of distress in 2021.
Everyone is keeping their fingers crossed for a Christmas free from lockdowns but many Australians will still be separated from family and friends due to border closures and the challenges around international travel.
Suicide figures around Christmas and the New Year
A close look at figures across Australia, as reported by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows fluctuation in suicide rates throughout the year. Suicide is complicated and never has one single cause. However, some studies have shown a trend for higher suicide rates in the months of December and January.
One Australian study found that there was a significant increase in suicides on Christmas Eve and New Years Day. The numbers from the AIHW study trend towards the start of the year, with the highest number of suicides for NSW in 2021 being January.
Why would suicide rates peak at Christmas and in the New Year?
Christmas is traditionally a time to spend with loved ones and New Year is for new beginnings.
For people who feel they have no strong emotional ties to others and those who view the upcoming New Year as another year of insurmountable obstacles, these holidays are understandably upsetting.
It can be difficult to see a positive future during the transition to a new year, which can lead to thoughts of self-harm.
Warning signs of suicide
Bearing in mind that Christmas and the new year may be periods of increased risk for those who struggle with depression and other mental health issues, it is important to be aware of the warning signs of suicide in friends, family and colleagues/employees.
If you notice any of the following in your friends or colleagues (or even yourself), it might be time to reach out:
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
- Seeing no purpose to life and having no direction
- Feeling worthless and useless
- Feeling like a burden to others
- Feeling they are trapped, and there is no other way out
- Talking or writing about suicide or wanting to die
- Increased use of alcohol, drugs or medications
- Acting anxious, agitated, or reckless
- Displaying extreme mood swings
- Isolating themselves and withdrawing from things once enjoyed
- Putting their affairs in order
- Calling or posting goodbyes to friends and loved ones
- Giving away valuable possessions
- Taking less care of themselves or their appearance
- Thinking no one would care if they weren’t around anymore
- Increased stress from a relationship breakdown
- Seeing the death of a friend or loved one to suicide as a solution
- Being subjected to bullying and abuse
- Feeling overwhelmed by life events
How to support others at Christmas
You don’t have to feel helpless if you’re worried about someone being at risk of suicide. There are a few established strategies for suicide prevention you can share with anyone who is suffering (or try them yourself):
- Talk to someone: Don’t suffer alone, talk to someone you trust or call your GP or a crisis hotline like BeyondBlue or Lifeline
- Self-care: Make sure to take care of basic needs
- Don’t drink: Alcohol is a depressant, it makes things worse
- Exercise: Exercise releases natural “feel good drugs”, endorphins
- Do something: Push yourself to get up off the couch and do something, anything, just get moving
- Find someone to spend time with
- Meditate: soothe your senses with some mindfulness meditation
- Make a ‘hope’ box with things to feel good about
- Make a personal safety plan of things you can do if you have feelings of despair
- Wait: Just wait and don’t take action. Time always heals
For a more in-depth look at suicide prevention strategies. check out our article here.
Positive outcomes in 2021
Despite the difficulties caused by COVID, the last year has seen a decline in suicide rates in Australia. While it can’t be said for certain that the rise in calls to crisis lines is directly responsible for the reduced numbers, it seems likely that the more people reach out for help, the more they find a way to move towards a more positive place in terms of their emotions.
Secondly, there is a culture shift going on around the world when it comes to mental health. Suicide is becoming less of a taboo subject as people open up about their mental health and actively seek help in greater numbers than ever before.
Along with this, community organisations, health organisations and even corporations are investing in suicide awareness and prevention training. It takes a community to reduce suicide rates and forward-thinking organisations now realise that they have the power to be part of the solution.
Even a small amount of awareness can help people to notice when someone is at risk and take steps to intervene. If you’re interested in educating your team about suicide so your team can enjoy a safer, happier festive season and new year, get in touch today.