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Depression over the holidays

1st January 2019. Reading Time: 5 minutes 1415 page views.

While there is a myth that suicide increases over holiday periods such as Christmas, it is simply not true. Historically, suicide rates are usually at their lowest in December. What is however a possible risk over the holidays is depression.

As we pack away the Christmas trees and slowly get back into the routine of going back to work and preparing for school, it is important that we are still checking in with our beloved family and friends that are sometimes forgotten about during the daily grind. While there is a myth that suicide increases over holiday periods such as Christmas, it is simply not true. Historically, suicide rates are at their lowest in December. It is thought that the reason behind this is attributed to the time spent with family and friends. While some dread having to get together with family, it is just what others need to get them through the holidays. That doesn’t mean however that the problem goes away.

Even though the suicide rates are technically lower, what we can’t ignore is the rate in which suicide numbers are increasing – particularly in men. In 2019, 3128 suicides were recorded in Australia according to the Bureau of Statistics. 2349 of these were men. That accounts for 75 percent. In fact suicide is found to be the leading cause of death in men aged 15-44. It even goes further when you look at the attempts that were not successful. For every death caused by suicide, it is estimated that up to 30 people have tried to end their life. According to lifeline, this figure equates to almost 65,300 suicide attempts each year.

It is also thought that rates of depression can rise over Christmas. It is thought that due to an increase of what is expected of you over the holiday period, family problems, financial stress mixed with a higher consumption of alcohol over the holiday period can all be contributing factors. We all feel sad and upset at times. It is all a part of the human psyche. If these feelings are intense for a long period of time that affect your ability to participate in normal daily activity, then it is possibly a sign of depression.

Signs of depression

According to lifeline, the signs of depression are:

  • Feeling sad, ‘flat’ or down most of the time (for two weeks or more)
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy (for two weeks or more)
  • Feeling tired or lacking energy and motivation
  • Moodiness that is out of character
  • Increased irritability and frustration
  • Increased alcohol and drug use
  • Changes in your weight or appetite
  • Having problems sleeping or sleeping all the time
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Feeling restless, edgy or slowed down
  • Having difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Thinking repeatedly about death or suicide

If you are experiencing a number of these symptoms, you may have depression. It is very important to visit your GP or another health professional for a full assessment and to discuss treatment options.

Managing depression

Taking steps to manage depression is important for your current and long-term health. Depression is an illness that can get worse if left untreated.

See your doctor - Talk to your doctor about how you’ve been feeling to find the most appropriate treatment for you. Your doctor can also refer you to a psychologist or other mental health professional for treatment, sometimes with a rebate through Medicare.

  • Talk to someone you trust - Talking to family, friends, a counselor, minister or a crisis line, can help you develop an understanding of your situation and help you move forward. There are some very effective treatments through psychologists/mental health professionals that can make a real difference.
  • Look after yourself - Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. Exercise has been shown to help reduce depression. Take time out to relax and do things you used to enjoy, even if you don’t feel like it now. When you have depression it can be hard to get motivated, but it’s important not to isolate yourself.
  • Be aware of your feelings - Noticing changes in your mood and thoughts and identifying what situations make you feel good and bad can help to stop negative thought patterns.
  • Keep safe - You may be having thoughts about dying, that it may be better to ‘not be around’ or you don’t know how much longer you can go on. These thoughts are common when people feel very depressed. If you have these thoughts, get help straight away. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14

Ultimately, depression if untreated can potentially lead to suicide or suicidal thoughts. If you noticed over the holiday period that a friend or family member wasn’t quite themselves, check in with them. Talk to them. Ask them if they are OK and most importantly, listen to them. Be mindful of the things you say to them. Telling them that they have a great life and shouldn’t be feeling this way is minimizing their feelings. Emphasizing with them and acknowledge how they are feeling while trying to provide a positive outlook for the future such as 'I know you feel pretty hopeless right now but things will get better.'. Let them know you are there for them and they are not alone. Encourage them to seek help. Sometimes people feel so hopeless they don’t know how to get out the hole they are in. Having someone help them to find help could be what they need. If you are supporting someone, it is important that you take care of yourself as well. You may start becoming frustrated and angry and it can have an affect on your own mental health. Change won’t happen overnight and they may not initially respond to your offer of help.

If you feel depressed, please see your GP who can do a mental health check and organise a referral. Keep an eye out for our next article which will be on the cost and benefits of getting a referral to a psychologist on the government heath plan.

Lifeline is am Australian charity which provides all Australian access to a 24 hour crisis support and suicide service. If you need to speak to someone, call 13 11 14. In the event of an emergence or a life is in danger, please call 000. Visit our LINKS page for a full list of services available.

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