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Thursday 24 January 2019

Mental health hospital bids to head off Christmas crisis

New scheme highlights stressful and emotional impact of the holiday season on our well-being

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Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

The pressures of Christmas are so extreme that one of Ireland's leading mental health hospitals has launched a new initiative to help people cope with the holiday season.

Doctors at St Patrick's Hospital have launched the country's first 'Seasonal Mental Health and Support Programme' for people who experience a deterioration in their mental health at this time of year.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Dr Declan Lyons described the emotional impact the holidays can have.

"We all know that negative life events are stressful, but sometimes positive life events can be stressful too, and expectations surrounding Christmas and how things 'should' be are high.

"Some people may be cynical about the holiday as a defence mechanism but nevertheless it does shine a magnifying glass on your well-being, your support network and the meaning and value you attach to your life."

Dr Lyons said that loneliness, which he described as "a fundamental human fear" and "something that is in our deep subconscious psyche" is more pronounced in the holiday season.

"We know from statistics that loneliness is as deleterious to your mental health as smoking and this is the time of year when it really does come to the fore.

"There can be a frenzy in the lead up to it and then it pares life back to the very bare essentials. You look at what you have in your life or indeed what you don't have. And it can be a very emotionally laden event for people.

"There is a tendency to think that there will be a respite from all the pain and the way you feel at Christmas but that doesn't always tend to happen."

Although Dr Lyons works specifically with patients over 65, he says the pressures of Christmas are felt across the board. "The aim of the programme is to help you deal with the consequences or the difficulties that arise from the cause of mental ill health [at this time of year]."

The doctor also called on people to check in on neighbours who may be alone, saying: "Exercise curiosity towards your neighbour. Go the extra mile now that the frenzy of preparation has passed. It's about reaching out and reverting to the true Christmas spirit in action, not just in aspiration.

"Drop in, make some communication, a smile or a greeting or an invitation under the door."

Sunday Independent

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