In her final column of 2017, children’s nursing student editor, Desiree Deighton, reminds us that problems don’t stop existing just because it’s the holidays…
Christmas. A time for mince pies, mulled wine, roaring fireplaces, laughing children, carols, and the hum of excitement that seems inescapable.
Yet, the festive period also coincides with a less joyful spike in alcohol and drug use, suicide, self-harm, domestic abuse and loneliness; but I do not feel it is a coincidence as the pressure this time of year can bring is tremendous.
For parents, there is huge pressure to be the ‘perfect family’ and provide mountains of beautifully wrapped gifts no matter what you earn. Poverty is no longer just for the homeless, and austerity has caused the elderly to choose between heating and eating, but is also pushing two income households to rely on food banks to feed their children.
With ‘parenthood goals’ constantly rising in the media, photographs of (dare I say?) obscene amounts of presents, not just under the tree but covering half the sitting room, how on earth can families cope with the pressure?
Excessive alcohol in the house can cause anxiety and fear for family members of addicts, as they are all too aware how quickly this fuel can burn all hopes for a trouble free Christmas.
“None of these issues have a holiday, break or press pause until New Year. It is their every day life. Likely to become even harder when isolated during Christmas”
Walking on eggshells and hearing that tone of voice through the wall which means it’s begun; causing your skin to goose pimple, arm hair stand on end and gut to clench.
Grief at Christmas can suddenly change from being manageable to completely overwhelming.
Whether it is your first Christmas that Grandma’s chair will remain empty, or the gaping sorrow of a lost baby who should have been here to wear the ‘my first Christmas’ babygrow, laying carefully wrapped under the tree.
What is frightening for school nurses, is that many are limited to term-time only contracts meaning that the children they care for are left without support over Christmas holidays.
Weekly chats with their school nurse disappear abruptly, yet many of these children are young carers for disabled parents, are self-harming, having suicidal thoughts, experiencing domestic abuse at home, living in poverty or sleeping by the front door at 13 years old to protect the family inside from the dangerous people on the street.
None of these issues have a holiday, break or press pause until New Year. It is their every day life. Likely to become even harder when isolated during Christmas.
During a placement with a school nurse, in walked a twelve year old girl whose eyes were vacant, face set like stone, who looked fragile enough to shatter into a million pieces.
She slowly nodded when asked if she has suicidal thoughts, and when asked “what keeps Holly alive?”, she replied with “I don’t want mum to find my body”.
This school nurse stayed behind for hours to ensure Holly would be seen by a mental health professional before the school broke up for holiday.
“Whether it is yourself or someone you love struggling, please remember: People care. You are not alone, and you will get through this”
Mental health support for children is hugely underfunded and therefore overstretched.
The criteria has become so high for referrals to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in some areas like Bradford, it is often the school nurse who provides that weekly glimmer of hope and voice of reason, that keeps the young person holding on when the world feels too hard.
Fairy lights will fade and tinsel dwindle, but if you need somebody to talk to and cannot open up to family, then do ring The Samaritans on 116-123 for free and it does not show up on a phone bill.
You should also visit your GP and the website www.moodjuice.scot.nhs.uk is really helpful for advice about anxiety and low mood.
If you are worried that you will hurt yourself or that someone you know is at risk of this, please phone 999 for immediate support. And yes, you are worth the call.
Whether it is yourself or someone you love struggling, please remember: People care. You are not alone, and you will get through this.
Grief, loneliness and difficult situations are amplified by Christmas and it can feel isolating when you are numb to the warmth and joy that seems to come to others so easily.
We can all help those who suffer during Christmas, by just being mindful not to become too caught up in our own festivities, as this risks shutting others out and becoming blinded to those on the outside looking in.