Illustration: Rod Clement.
The family reunions, break from work and festive gift-giving mean Christmas is a wonderful time of year for most people. However, for others the holiday season is a daunting stretch that intensifies grief, loneliness and anger.
The pain of separation or recently losing a loved one, family tension and financial hardship mean for many Australians this will be the toughest time of their year.
It is a sad fact that beyond the facade of many families' Christmas cheer and goodwill there is sadness and each year beyondblue helps thousands of people from every walk of life get through the holiday season. Feelings such as grief or loneliness affect all of us from time to time and it is vital that everyone knows that if they are struggling over the holiday season, help is only a phone call away.
Our professional counsellors at the beyondblue support service are on standby to talk to people on the phone if they feel they're having difficulty coping over the holidays. People can also access our mental health counsellors via the live chat function on our website every night of the week or via email.
But Canberrans who might be struggling also have access to an Australian-first beyondblue program that offers help for people who might be experiencing mild to moderate depression or anxiety.
NewAccess allows people to refer themselves to a specially trained life coach who creates an individually tailored program to help ease the person's psychological distress.
Canberra is the first place in Australia to have the NewAccess program. It's available to anyone who is concerned about their wellbeing, it is completely free and since its launch in July it has helped nearly 100 Canberrans take the first steps towards taking back control of their life.
Over several sessions, including face-to-face consultations and phone sessions, the coach helps people identify ways to improve their wellbeing. NewAccess, which is open over the entire Christmas period, is designed to encourage people to seek support early, before things get worse.
If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, contact NewAccess to schedule an appointment with a coach. As a long-time Canberra resident, I know first-hand how hard it is to be separated from family in other parts of Australia at Christmas.
I have seen that for some people who live in our nation's capital, this loneliness can manifest itself in many ways, including self-medicating with alcohol or other drugs to cope with the pain and sadness. Unfortunately, this will actually make you feel worse. Anyone who fears they might struggle to cope over the holidays should get in touch with the beyondblue support service and get advice on how they can use other strategies.
However, ultimately, when it comes to helping people at Christmas, we can all do more to support each other. I read the story last week of lonely Irish pensioner James Grey who, having spent the last nine Christmases alone, took out an advertisement in his local paper asking for someone to spend Christmas with.
One person responded but then pulled out. The paper reported on his situation and he was soon overwhelmed with offers, prompting him to wonder why he hadn't asked for company sooner.
As someone who works in the mental health sector and has the mental health benefits of regular human interaction, this story resonated with me. What occurred to me is that most people are moved by stories of other people's hardship, it's just they often don't know when someone is suffering and needs a hand.
It may sound trite, but I hope this inspires some people to go out of their way this Christmas to check on a friend or neighbour who may be alone. Pop in to say hello and ask if they want to spend Christmas Day with you. And if you need a hand this Christmas, don't be embarrassed or ashamed to ask.
Everyone has a tough time occasionally. If you don't have a neighbour, a relative or an old friend to call on, contact our support service or NewAccess. They're there to help.
Kate Carnell is CEO of beyondblue.
Support service: phone 1300 22 4636 or go to www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support NewAccess: 6287 8066 or go to www.actml.com.au