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Seven things I do to cope during Christmas

Contrary to the myth, suicides rates don’t increase at Christmas, but people living with depression struggle immensely. I know, because I am one of them. January actually has one of the highest suicide rates than any other month of the year, according to the NHS.

Two Decembers ago I was lying in a hospital bed recovering from a serious attempt on my life. Christmas has always been a hard time of year for me, longing for what was, and inundated by images in the media of happy families coming together in cheer.

My very large family used to be happy-ish. But over the years bickering divided us. Unable to deal with the stress of it, I moved away from home. To another country I mean. I made a tough choice and that adds to the burden I often feel around this time of year when depression worsens for me.

Last December the Samaritans reportedly answered close to 250,000 calls from people living with depression and stress in Britain and Ireland. Here are some of the things I’ve done and may do to cope around this time of year.

1. Start a new tradition
For various reasons, we can’t all the happy family gatherings with lots of gifts. Last year I spend the holiday at my friend’s house. It was both different and nice. There’s nothing wrong with breaking tradition.

2. Volunteer at a charity or soup kitchen
Depression can really cause us to focus on how awful we’re feeling and we sometimes forget that others are struggling too. Christmas in countries that have winter can be particularly hard for people living on the streets. This year I’d really like to help out at a soup kitchen or charity supporting homeless people

3. Remember it’s OK if you can’t give gifts
It’s the small things that matter. Don’t go spending lots of money to put yourself in debt. If your friends are truly your friends they’ll understand that you can’t afford presents. Offer to help them decorate their tree or bake them a cake.

4. Go listen to Christmas carols
Even if you’re not religious, you may find Christmas carols in a church setting comforting, as I do. A lot of churches have choirs that sing carols around this time of year, offering messages of hope to those who need it most.

5. Do whatever makes you happy
After I left hospital in 2013, I wasn’t in the mood for spending Christmas with anyone else. At first my friends didn’t understand but they eventually got that I was exhausted and needed some alone-time to think through things and rest. I slept for a huge chunk of the day, but cooked a nice non-traditional meal and watched movies. Who says you have to have a traditional dinner? Have Chinese food if that’s what you want!

6. Reach out for help
If you’re feeling low and you need someone to talk to,don’t be afraid to reach out. There are lots of charities that help people to cope around the holidays. I find calling the Samaritans quite helpful. There’s nothing wrong with calling on your friends either.

7. Remember you’re not alone
There are a lot of people grieving and who feel alone at this time of year. Join a support group or forum if you’d like to connect with people who feel the same. I find Depression Alliance’s Friends in Need and Mind’s Ele Friends particularly helpful.

Merry Christmas and may your new year be brighter than your last :)

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