Christmas and New Year can be a very difficult time for people – but help is available.
That is the message from the Western Isles Association for Mental Health and the Samaritans in partnership with community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust, which supports both organisations.
The joint message from these services is: “It’s good to talk – and we are here”.
Del Gunn, Project Manager of the Western Isles Association for Mental Health (WIAMH), said: “Christmas and New Year is a very difficult time for a lot of people and there’s a lot of loneliness.
"When everybody seems to be celebrating, others aren’t. For them, it’s not a time of celebration. Some people actually dread Christmas coming along.
“It’s quite a high-risk time because of the excessive amounts of alcohol consumed. I suppose there is a higher risk of suicide as well around this time. It’s not always the case but when people are lonely, isolated and depressed the risk of suicide can increase. There’s also a reduced availability of support services over the Christmas period.”
Del said social isolation had become “an increasing problem here on the island – and that cuts across all ages, as the population is decreasing”. However, having places like the WIAMH base on Bayhead in Stornoway available for drop-ins provided “an extra way for people to come together”.
He stressed the importance of talking – but said that message was “not just for Christmas”.
He added: “People don’t share their experiences and the troubles they are going through and that is not just at Christmas time. That’s a message we’re trying to get across – people need to talk about their feelings and their concerns, as do their friends and family themselves.
“This is not always a good time and the message to the public is, if you know someone who is struggling in your own community, talk to them. There’s a good chance they’ll really appreciate it. Just talk to people. And if you pass someone in the street, say ‘hi’ or ‘hello’. It can mean the world to someone who is experiencing a lot of loneliness at this time of year.”
WIAMH is open for drop-ins during the Christmas and New Year weeks. It is open on Monday, 23 December and Christmas Eve from 12 noon till 4pm. It is open again on Monday, 30 December and Hogmanay, reopening again on Friday, 3 January and Saturday, 4 January. It is “business as usual” from January 3, with the hours of New Year week being 12 noon till 4pm on Monday, Tuesday and Friday and 11am till 3pm on the Saturday.
Western Isles Association for Mental Health is a service for adults who are experiencing mental health difficulties and for people concerned about someone else and looking for advice and support.
Del said: “People may call in for some advice or contact details as we signpost to other agencies. A cup of tea and a friendly face is always there for you…”
However, in the event of an emergency, people are advised to call 111 (NHS 24) for acute services.
For people who want someone to talk to, the Samaritans will be on the end of a phone, 24/7 – and their service runs every single day of the year.
In their base in Stornoway, there are two volunteers on at any one time, for select four-hour periods. They also hold weekly drop-in sessions, where people can talk to a Samaritan face-to-face, and these are Fridays from 1pm to 4pm, at their base on Cromwell Street.
The branch director stressed that confidentiality was always paramount.
And to anyone thinking about contacting the Samaritans, she said: “The hardest thing is to pick up the phone and they might not manage the first time to say something. But everything they say is confidential. We just listen. We don’t judge anyone or tell them to take decisions about their lives. You can talk about anything. We’re there just for emotional support. It’s good to talk.”
She agreed Christmas and New Year was “a very challenging time” – and that was already having an impact. “People are talking about Christmas and coming up to Christmas. Maybe relationships are breaking down and this time of year can be really traumatic. A lot of it stems from loneliness. Everyone else is enjoying themselves and they’re being so isolated from all the festivities.
“They’ve maybe lost loved ones throughout the year and they’re alone. The noise and excitement of Christmas is really annoying and they don’t feel involved with anything and they’re down and it can lead to feeling suicidal.”
The short days and long nights were also a factor.
To mark what can be the lowest point of the year, the Samaritans will be holding a special drop-in to raise awareness – ‘Brew Monday’ on January 20, when the base will be open to the general public to come in for a cuppa and cake, to find out what the Samaritans are all about.
This day – the third Monday after New Year – is traditionally known as ‘Blue Monday’, the day when people are likely to feel at their lowest, following Christmas.
The branch director said: “We know that it’s a blue day. People feel down and deflated after all the excitement of Christmas and maybe there’s money problems from spending a lot of money and now having to pay it back.”
Western and Isles Association for Mental Health and the Samaritans are both supported by Point and Sandwick Trust. The community wind farm has pledged financial support to WIAMH for five years and some of that money has gone on suicide prevention training. The charity has also helped the Samaritans towards the costs of upgrading their Stornoway base.
Donald John MacSween, Point and Sandwick Trust general manager, said: “Point and Sandwick Trust are committed to help local organisations at the sharp end of providing vital support services for people who are suffering from mental health issues. This time of year is especially difficult for some and we are fortunate that there are support services available locally to help.
“We live in a place with a poor climate, minimal winter daylight and other societal pressures.
“WIAMH and the Samaritans are there for us, providing discrete professional services at minimal cost and maximum benefit to our community. We are grateful for their service.”