21 December 2015

The Christmas and New Year season heralds celebrations with loved ones but for people experiencing severe stress or mental illness it can trigger depression and increase the risk of self-harm.

NSW Health Chief Psychiatrist, Dr Murray Wright, said studies conducted in Australia and overseas showed an increase in the risk of self-harm and suicide in the days following Christmas and also on New Year’s Day.

“For those with a depressive illness or experiencing severe stress due to a job loss, financial pressures, bereavement or relationship breakdown, the festive season can be an emotionally distressing time,” Dr Wright said.

“Many people are busy catching up with their families for Christmas and New Year celebrations so it can be very isolating for those without families or other sources of support.

“Particularly at this time of year, it’s important to remember to look out for those who are vulnerable and may be feeling alone.

“Simply asking people what their plans are, and inviting them along to celebrations can be a welcome support.”

Dr Wright said the risk of self-harm increased when people became intoxicated with alcohol and other drugs.

“Drinking alcohol, particularly when under a lot of stress or coping with a depressive illness, can increase the risk of self-harm as it can lead to impulsive and irrational behaviour,” he said.

“The majority of people who have ended up in emergency departments due to self-harm have been intoxicated.”

However Dr Wright said the Christmas and New Year period could also be a healing time for many people coping with stress in their lives.

“Particularly if work is the key trigger of stress, people can benefit from spending more time with family and friends and taking time out for their favourite pastimes and recreational activities,” he said.

“We often don’t know what personal challenges people are facing, so it’s important – especially at times of greater risk such as the Christmas/New Year season – to look out for those around us and be inclusive to help them through.”

People needing assistance can contact:

  • Lifeline on 13 11 14 for 24/7 crisis support
  • Beyond Blue  on 1300 22 4636 for 24/7 mental health advice and information
  • The 24/7 1800 011 511 Mental Health Line for mental health assistance
  • healthdirect Australia​ on 1800 022 222 for 24/7 health advice and information.

If in an emergency and in need of immediate assistance, please contact emergency services on triple zero(000).