Resources to support your clients’ mental health during the holiday season 

Australian Psychological Society

The holiday period can be a challenging time for many people, which is why psychologists need to be prepared for a potential influx of client mental health challenges over the next few weeks.

While advertising companies and Hollywood would have us believe that the holiday period is a magical, care-free time for all, the reality is that for many people it can be extremely challenging.

“The end of year often surfaces existing mental health challenges for people,” says Dr Catriona Davis-McCabe, APS President. “For many people, it can bring up issues of loneliness and isolation – especially if they are far away from their friends and family.”

There are plenty of other challenges that can arise, including financial stress, substance misuse and relationship conflict. With this in mind, we have collated a range of resources to support psychologists to manage a potential spike in mental health challenges over the holiday period.

Combating loneliness

Last year, research from the Red Cross found that 31% of people in Australia felt lonely around the holiday period. Men were particularly at risk, with 44 per cent aged 18-34 reporting feeling isolated.

Our own research, done in partnership with Ending Loneliness Together, has shown 1 in 4 Australians report feeling affected by loneliness, and that the stigma associated with this often prevents people from speaking up about it.

Davis-McCabe says it can be worthwhile encouraging clients to plan ahead and consider which aspects of the holiday period might be triggering for them.

“For example, if your client’s family is overseas, suggest that they make plans with other local expats to encourage a sense of community around this time,” she says.


Managing family conflict and feelings of stress

While coming together with friends and family is often a joyous occasion for people, for others it can be a source of stress and conflict.

“There’s a lot of polarisation going on in society at the moment due to many of the social and geopolitical challenges happening across the globe. This might increase tension within family units or friendship groups,” says Davis- McCabe.

Even without family conflict, this can be a stressful time of year, as people often drain their social battery by attending too many events, feel overwhelmed from having to organise gifts and events, and experience financial stress due to the cost-of-living crisis.

“Christmas is an expensive time of year at the best of times. Without even factoring in the gifts that are often expected, simply paying for groceries for a family lunch could place financial pressures on people.

“After a prolonged period of financial stress, the festive period could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in terms of people’s mental resilience.”


Climate challenges

The summertime in Australia often also means extreme weather events, like bushfires. And experts are predicting that we’re in for some hot weather.

With this comes increased stress and climate anxiety for many people, especially those living in fire or flood-prone regions. A quarter of Australians meet the criteria for clinical anxiety or trauma-related to climate change, research finds. And while this is experienced across all generations, it is particularly pronounced in younger people.

“Unfortunately, this is only going to continue being an issue at this time of year, so it’s worth encouraging clients to have a mental health plan to ensure they’re prepared should they experience a climate disaster.”


Substance misuse

This is a time of year where people often turn to drugs and alcohol, whether that’s for celebratory reasons or as a coping mechanism. For those with a challenging relationship with these substances, that can lead to a whole range of social and mental health challenges.

It’s important to remind clients that behaviours such as over-consumption of alcohol can often have unforeseen knock-on effects to their broader wellbeing.

“That’s not to say that we should be telling people not to indulge at this time of year. It’s just about reminding them that certain behaviours are often linked. Sometimes reminding clients of their holistic wellbeing can work wonders.”


Normalising the struggle

As a community, we need to normalise the issues outlined above.

“It’s important that people who struggle at this time of year don’t feel like they are on their own,” says Davis McCabe.

“As a community, we need to talk about how challenging this time of year can be for people and advocate for people to reach out.

Sharing the APS ‘Find a psychologist’ service with your network could be the best gift you could give someone this year.”

And finally, it’s of utmost importance that psychologists also protect their own wellbeing over this busy period. APS members have access to a free webinar on self-care for psychologists that can help you build some useful recovery techniques into your routine.

“On behalf of APS, I wish you all a safe, relaxing and replenishing holiday period.”

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