For many Australians, Christmas is the happiest time of year. For others however, Christmas can emphasise feelings of loneliness, which can in turn, lead to depression.

According to Lifeline, deaths by suicide have reached a 10-year peak in Australia.

Despite the increasing number of mental health services, programs and consciousness-raising initiatives, depression continues to be plagued by stigma, and the very nature of this disease will continue to pose management challenges.

Notably, Australian Family Physician reported today (December 12, 2014) that Australia leads the world in the development of internet-delivered programs for the prevention and management of mood and anxiety disorders. Yet despite strong evidence supporting the time, cost-effectiveness and clinical efficacy of these programs, their uptake among general practice remains low.

Rates of suicide show no increase on Christmas Day, but rather, an increase over the New Year period. According to UniSA Chairman of Mental Health, Professor Nicholas Procter, connecting with family and friends over the Christmas period is a known protective factor of suicide and self-harm and suicide is more likely to occur in the New Year, but more research about why is needed.

“International evidence indicates there are fewer suicide attempts than expected before Christmas and nearly 40 per cent more than expected after, especially on New Year’s Day.”

It’s important to be aware of the behaviour of family members and friends who exhibit behaviour related to mental health illnesses.

“For this group, the desire to end their life by suicide is so powerful, they believe that completing the act means they will no longer be a burden to themselves, family or others,” said Professor Procter.

As many businesses close over Christmas, it is a slow time of year, where many people go into a reflective state. Unfortunately for those with a mental illness, this can mean comparing their work, relationships and income to peers and family members.

In addition, many mental health professionals take leave during this period, leaving a fractured support network.

Dr Melissa Petrakis, Lecturer in the Department of Social Work, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Monash University echoes Prof Procter’s sentiments of the challenges faced by those living with a mental illness over the silly season.

“In the true spirit of Christmas, this next couple of weeks is an important time to let anyone we know who may be struggling, that we care about them, and that to access professional help is in fact a demonstration of bravery and wisdom.”

For information on suicide prevention, contact Lifeline on 131 114 or SANE Helpline on 1800 12 SANE (7263) or Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.