Colin Leslie: Christmas is a tough time for people experiencing mental ill health

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and for most of us it can indeed be a most wonderful time of the year – an annual window of relaxation, celebration and sharing with family and friends. However, the festive period inevitably can also be a time of loneliness and anxiety for some, and for those experiencing mental ill health it can be a particularly testing time.

Mental health charity Support in Mind Scotland provides support and services to around 2000 people every week across more than 20 diverse projects up and down the country, including in our busy Edinburgh resource, the Stafford Centre in Broughton Street.

Christmas can bring great financial and emotional pressure on people who are experiencing tough times. Picture: John Devlin

Christmas can bring great financial and emotional pressure on people who are experiencing tough times. Picture: John Devlin

Christmas can bring great financial and emotional pressure on people who are experiencing tough times in their lives, and there are many of the people who access our services who have tell us that it is actually something they dread.

One of the people we support told us: “Virtually everywhere shuts down for Christmas, including services for people experiencing mental illness, so the isolation can be particularly difficult to live with.

“I don’t want people to think my hatred for Christmas is a case of ‘bah humbug’. I know it’s an important, happy time of the year for other people, and you can’t take it out of the calendar, but for me I would be so happy if we skipped Christmas and New Year and went straight to January 2.”

The support, groups and activities we offer at the Stafford Centre are absolutely vital to people trying to live with and recover from mental illness. We provide people with a safe place and the right support at the right time. From our mental health radio station, Radio Stafford 103, to the cafe and walking groups that we run, we help people gain greater self-confidence and become more integrated within the community. 

However, while the Stafford Centre is a hive of activity on weekdays all year round, during the festive period, our resources and capacity – largely dictated by tight budget constraints – mean we are unable to stay open right through the holidays, although the Centre is open on December 27 and 28.

Fortunately, in the Edinburgh area, there are some fantastic events staged by community organisations on Christmas Day, and a network of support is provided throughout the holiday period. Our friends at Street Soccer Scotland regularly provide football matches and special events, while Hibernian and Hearts will again throw open their doors to provide companionship and free meals on Christmas Day.

In Scotland, charities pride themselves on a spirit of collaboration, and this togetherness is never more evident than at Christmas time. For anyone in a crisis over the festive period, there is always help available, and we have a responsibility to sign-post people to appropriate services.

Specific emergency contacts for Mental Health issues include the Edinburgh Crisis Centre (line open 24/7) on 0808 801 0414; the Mental Health Assessment Service on 0131 537 6000. You could also call The Samaritans local line on 0131 221 9999 and Breathing Space on 0800 838587 (6pm to 2am).

For more information about Support in Mind Scotland and the Stafford Centre please call us on 0131 662 4359 or email: info@supportinmindscotland.org.uk

Colin Leslie is Communications and Fundraising Manager at Support in Mind Scotland