Woman helping her friend with mental health issues at Christmas by taking her on a walk outside

Don’t leave anyone lonely: make a place for your friends this Christmas

Christmas can be a lonely time. There are thousands of reasons why people experience mental health issues at Christmas, which is why it’s important to keep an eye on friends, family members and even strangers. Doing your part can make a big difference.

Social isolation and loneliness are already considered significant health and wellbeing issues in Australia, with most Australians experiencing loneliness at some point in their lives, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

It’s worth pointing out that being alone doesn’t mean you’re lonely, it just means you’re by yourself. Being lonely on the other hand is an emotional state that can leave you feeling disconnected from others, if you’re with other people.

With Christmas approaching, this article will explore why Christmas isn’t a happy time for everyone and some of the signs that someone is lonely. We’ll also look at how you can look out for someone who might be lonely this Christmas, and the benefits of a kind act – no matter how small and not just for friends or family – especially for someone who is alone.

Christmas isn’t a happy time for everyone: how to manage mental health at Christmas

Christmas is thought of as a time of joy, when friends and families all over the world come together and bask in the delight of the best holiday in the calendar, right?

Wrong. Christmas is a really difficult time for many people. In fact, some people want to get it over with as soon as possible, or avoid it altogether.

In this section, we’ll dig a little deeper into some of the reasons Christmas isn’t always a happy time for everyone, with a little help from mental health charity Mind.

Missing those who aren’t around

One of the primary reasons people don’t enjoy Christmas is because they’re missing others who have died or slipped out of their day-to-day lives.

Christmas can be a reminder of connections you once shared, whilst the attention around spending time with family and friends can remind you of those who aren’t there.

Bad memories and avoiding people or situations

Plenty of people simply don’t have fond memories of Christmas. Whilst Christmas is a time for reliving traditions and memories with loved ones, plenty of people have the opposite experience.

Some people might have experienced abuse or trauma – in the past or currently – that makes the whole process of Christmas difficult, and something they’d rather avoid.

Meanwhile, some simply don’t like being around family members who might purposefully antagonise them or bring up stories or memories that are painful.

For others, getting together with family members might mean being judged or having to spend time with people they have a difficult relationship with.

If this sounds like you, why not try something different? It doesn’t mean you have to spend your Christmas alone. Instead, why not volunteer to help the homeless or visit your local aged care facility.

Outside pressures

There are plenty of outside pressures surrounding Christmas that make it a miserable time for many, especially for those with social anxiety and similar conditions.

For example, there’s a pressure to socialise and look happy, whilst the outside world is transformed with sensory stimulants – like bright lights, music and busy shops – which some find difficult.

Other outside pressures include social media – and other forms of media – that has a bad habit of portraying Christmas as a happy time, and nothing else.

This can increase the pressure on you to have that picture perfect Christmas, but this is false and misleading. No Christmas is perfect. Try not to measure your Christmas by what’s going on across social media.

Financial stress

People might want to avoid Christmas because of the financial stress that comes with it. People might have financial worries, like they can’t afford presents or food and drink.

This is especially true at the moment, with thousands upon thousands of Australians either without work or facing other financial hardships following the Covid pandemic.

How can I tell if someone is lonely?

One of the ways you can tell if someone is lonely is if you don’t see much of them, or if you never see them spending time with friends or family members.

That’s not to say people are lonely if they don’t spend time with family or friends, but there is a chance they could feel isolated, especially at Christmas.

You might be able to spot loneliness when you’re interacting with someone. Ask yourself: do they struggle to connect with you? Is every conversation on a surface level?

Again, this doesn’t guarantee loneliness, but it does give an indication that they struggle to make meaningful connections with people, leading to a lonely Christmas.

If you’ve offered to meet up or spend time with someone, but they always seem to come up with excuses, the person may be subconsciously or even consciously isolating themselves.

This can work in a vicious cycle. The longer the person avoids spending time with others, the more anxious they get about meeting up.

Remember, being alone doesn’t mean you’re lonely, it just means you’re by yourself. If you’re lonely, you might feel disconnected from others, even if you’re with people. You don’t have to be alone to be lonely, and you don’t have to be lonely if you’re alone.

How you can help someone who is lonely this Christmas

There are plenty of ways you can make a real difference this Christmas. Reaching out to someone you think is lonely may take time and effort, but it’s worth it.

From picking up the phone to check on somebody you’re concerned about to saving a chair at the dinner table, here are some of the things you can do.

Talk to people

If you’re concerned about someone, strike up a conversation with them. Whether it’s mental health issues at Christmas or another mental health challenge, talking is often the best, and easiest, way to check up on someone.

Not only is socialising good for loneliness, but striking up a conversation allows you the chance to find out what their plans for Christmas are.

Talking to people can simply mean having a chat with your neighbour, but you can also make a difference by volunteering for a local organisation.

This can give you the opportunity to get out and about in your local community – be it at an aged care facility or working with the local homeless charity – to reach out to those who may be in need.

Make the call

Don’t live near the person you’re concerned about? Pick up the phone and call them. Just a quick phone call to ask how they’re doing or what they have planned is enough.

Be honest and open and let them know how happy you’d be if they came and spent Christmas with you and your family. If you can, and if they need it, offer to transport them to and from your home.

Even if they don’t want to spend Christmas with you, a quick chat about how things are going will be welcomed and appreciated.

Remember, even if someone isn’t alone, they might be feeling lonely. Don’t pass on making the call just because someone lives with their partner.

Pay a home visit

Christmas is hectic. Nobody is expecting you to spend hours and hours visiting people, but nothing beats catching up face to face.

Even if it’s for just a few minutes, make an effort to see someone you haven’t been contact with for a while. Having a quick tea or coffee together can go a long way.

If you want, you could bring the person a meal, some treats – like chocolate or biscuits – or offer to help with wrapping presents or visiting the shops.

Save a chair

Even if the person declines your offer to spend Christmas with you, keep a chair to one side and make extra food in case they change their mind.

Let the person know that you understand they don’t want to spend Christmas with you, but should they change their mind, they’ll have a place waiting for them.

Raise a glass to absent family and friends

Just because someone does decide to spend Christmas with you doesn’t mean they won’t feel alone. If the person has recently lost a loved one, take this into consideration.

A simple, meaningful gesture can mean a lot. Raising a toast? Why not drop in a few lines about the deceased and how missed they are. If you have a phone – make a video of you toasting their good health and send them some Xmas Cheer. Don’t expect a reply, just do it.

Try and find out little Christmas traditions that the person used to have with their loved one. Did they watch a particular film on Christmas Eve? Why not screen it for them.

Look up local events and festivities

The holidays are all about coming together, and there are plenty of local events and festivities to get involved in that can prevent loneliness and may be able to help with mental health issues at Christmas.

Most communities have an event suited to everyone, whether it be a Christmas carol concert or Christmas lunch at the local community centre.

Make a list of some local events, or put together some information, and communicate it with the person so they can attend if they want to.

For urgent support

If there’s an immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please call 000.

If you need someone to talk with now, call:

  • Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 or chat online at beyondblue.org.au
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467

Do you experience mental health issues at Christmas?

Mental health challenges can arise at any time. You can experience mental health issues at Christmas, at work, or even completely out of the blue. If you struggle with your mental health and need professional help, our registered psychologists can help.

Our mission is to make it easier than ever to get mental health support. The Access Psych team includes 80+ practitioners throughout the country, with both face-to-face and telehealth options available.

Alternatively, if you have any questions about Access Psych and what else we can do for you, visit our FAQs page.

When you’re ready, you can book an appointment online, speak to one of our friendly team on 1800 277 924 or email info@accesspsych.com.au.

The information provided in this document is general in nature and is intended to be used for information purposes only. While we have tried to ensure the accuracy of the information published, no guarantee can be given that the information is free from error or omission or that it is accurate, current or complete.

The information published is not, and should not be relied on as, health or treatment advice. The diagnosis and treatment of any mental illness requires the attention of a physician or other properly qualified mental health professional. If you are seeking diagnosis or treatment of any other mental illness, you should consult a physician or mental health professional. You should not delay in seeking, or disregard, professional health advice because of something you have read in this document.