Dec 192013

Traditionally Christmas brings promises of peace, hope and joy. However, for many this is a far cry from the experiential reality of busyness, stress, unmet expectations, disappointments and loneliness. No wonder my friends call this the ‘silly season’.

One in five Australians aged 16-85 experiences a mental illness in any year, with the most common mental illnesses being depression, anxiety and substance-use disorders, or a combination. Although symptoms of mental illness can occur at any time, arguably the additional pressures at Christmas, such as finances, being time-poor and media images of happy well-adjusted families, can exacerbate already tough circumstances and leave individuals, who feel like their reserves are already low, wondering how they will cope.

If you think about it, one in five may equate to one or two people within your close family and friendship networks who are experiencing symptoms of a common mental illness.

This year, in the midst of the wrapping paper, I have decided to actively acknowledge this and promote what I will call the 2Cs approach to Christmas Cheer: Care for Yourself and Care for Others.

Care for Yourself

Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord.

Christmas began simply. You do not have to conform to what society and the media suggest is important at Christmas. In the midst of busyness, remember to look after yourself. It is ok to say no and to ask for help if you need it.

Care for Others

Altruism is defined as the ‘unselfish concern for the welfare for others’ but can be more broadly taken to mean ‘demonstrated charity and the act of giving to others’. So when Auntie Mabel, over her second glass of sherry, is telling you again about her aches, pains and loneliness, instead of finding an excuse to leave and wander over to the buffet for a second helping, maybe this year you could remember the old saying that it is better to give than to receive and practise altruism. Sit, listen, check that she is ok and if she is not, seek appropriate support.

I do not think that the ‘silly season’ needs to get difficult. If I look after others, and you do likewise, maybe collectively we can realise the Christmas promise of peace, hope and joy.

Emma Jarvis

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