Christmas is over… so now what?

We may feel down around this time for various reasons: a post-Christmas lull in finances, social life, a lack of something to look forward to, and in most recent times, the fear of what a new year will bring to the ongoing pandemic.

But if we are feeling like this, should we brush it off as a passing phase or should we get help?

Mental health organisations want the public to know that winter blues, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a genuine reason to contact them for guidance and support.

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Wendy Halliday, director of See Me, Scotland’s programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination, said: “Seasonal affective disorder can have a real impact on many people’s lives.

“Making comments like ‘It’s just that time of year' can be really unhelpful and add to the stigma that still exists around mental health, preventing people from asking for help.”

Breathing Space's National Coordinator, Tony McLaren, says that they take around 12,000 calls per month, but there is usually an increase between November and February.  

 He said: “The most common reasons are low moods and depression, relationship problems, anxiety and stress.

“Sometimes we see an anomaly at Christmas, then a further increase in January. When Christmas is over the normality of life hits everyone, bills start coming in, the weather is rubbish, and there is not much to look forward to.”

“Just because it’s Christmas, doesn’t mean people are or should be merry.

“For many it’s a huge step to pick up the phone, they may have exhausted other family and friend supports, they may be feeling ashamed or embarrassed.

"I have been a therapist for many years and no call is a useless call. If someone wants to speak, that’s fantastic.”

What help can we expect if we do make that step of reaching out?

Tony assured that everyone is treated individually: “Advisors will take each call on their own merits, listening, advising, and signposting appropriately to services that are available.”

Tony also pointed out that for many the first port of call is to assume the answer is medication, when other services may benefit them more.

He added: “Very often people say ‘I’m depressed, I need tablets’, but more often they are struggling with low moods. Vocabulary is important, the words we use matter. We cannot self-diagnose.

“Exercise is crucial, especially at this time of year when we barely see daylight. Getting some light into our brains costs nothing and uplifts us.

“Eating healthily is not as noted as it should be. A healthy diet boosts your mood and stops you putting on weight which is so easily done over Christmas.

“We hear these things all the time, but there’s an evidence base for this.

“If you’re seeing friends, talking openly, engaging with services, eating well and exercising – all together you will see a change in how you look and view the world.” Glasgow Times: Breathing Space mural at Glasgow Central Station. Image from Network Rail.Breathing Space mural at Glasgow Central Station. Image from Network Rail.

Breathing Space have been introducing more physical reminders that mental health should be discussed.

Conversation benches have popped up at numerous locations across the country, including on campus of Strathclyde University.

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Staff and students welcomed the bench, wanting the campus to reflect an open attitude to mental health and show that it is everyone’s business. Glasgow Times: Conversation bench. Credit: Breathing Space.Conversation bench. Credit: Breathing Space.

He added: “If someone sat next to you on a regular bench and tried to talk to you, you may find it strange.

"But if it were a Breathing Space bench you may think differently and decide to have a conversation about how you’re feeling, and it might get people talking.”

Last December, Breathing Space and Samaritans teamed up with Network Rail and local artist Sam Bates aka Smug to create a 10-foot mural in Glasgow Central Station. Glasgow Times: Breathing Space mural at Glasgow Central Station. Image from Network Rail.Breathing Space mural at Glasgow Central Station. Image from Network Rail.

Featuring a single hand reaching out across a divide to other hands, it symbolises that helping hands are there if you need them.

While not forcing the subject in people’s faces, Tony hopes that these physical reminders serve as a conversation starter and at least get the ball rolling to improving our mindset.

He said: “Every individual is different but one umbrella statement we use is: mental health is everyone’s business.

"Not everyone has a mental health disorder, but everyone has mental health. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it isn’t, but what you experience is genuine and real.”

Wendy from See Me added: “If someone close to you is struggling, it’s important that you ask how they are and don’t dismiss it.

"You don’t have to be an expert to talk about mental health, and quite often, taking time to listen can make a huge difference.

“If you are struggling yourself, know that help is out there. No one should feel like their experiences are belittled, or that they are treated in a condescending way, for speaking about how they’re feeling.”

If you are struggling or know someone who is you can call Breathing Space on 0800 83 85 87.