Luckily for a lot of us Christmas is the time of year that is looked forward to with much anticipation for the fun and festivities which lie ahead over the coming weeks, however Christmas can also exacerbate the feeling of loneliness and bring great sadness for people, particularly for those who may have suffered the loss of a loved one during the year.
Last weekend in Swinford, a Celebration of Light took place which was an evening of song, music, poetry and reflection for those who have been affected by suicide. Over 500 people lost their lives to suicide in Ireland last year and the Swinford event was one of six Celebrations of Light held by the national suicide prevention and bereavement charity Console. “The loss of a loved one is always devastating, but when that loss is through suicide it can be so much harder for the families and friends left behind.” said Console founder and CEO Paul Kelly. For those in Mayo who may need help in dealing with a loss of a loved one, Console offers counselling services and a 24-hour helpline support. Console can be reached at any time on freephone 1800 201 890 and many resources and useful information can be found at www.console.ie
Christmas is seen as a family time, a time of reunions and there is an expectation that people will be cheerful. Christmas traditions involve visiting and giving and receiving presents but for someone who has suffering a loss or is still grieving, their loss is emphasised.
Research commissioned by The Irish Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP ) shows that one in eight Irish people keep their personal problems and difficulties to themselves and the IACP have asked that you look out for those grieving this Christmas. Alcohol consumption can also be higher than normal during the Christmas period, which will not help those feeling low, as alcohol can be a depressant. According to the IACP there are tell-tale signs that someone is suffering at Christmas, including the avoidance of company, mood swings and a change in eating or sleeping habits. You can help by asking the person how they are and encourage them to talk, or ask that they talk to a family member, GP, or an accredited counsellor who can provide coping mechanisms to help them get through the festive period.
Remember this Christmas to keep an eye out for neighbours, relatives and friends who live alone. One service which they might want to avail of is Befriending Mayo, which is a network of community groups in partnership with the HSE which make telephone contact with older people who would like a regular call. There are ten services throughout the county, including Lacken (096 34130 ); Kiltane (097 83881 ); Ballinrobe (094 9542908 ); Headford/Shrule (093 36446 ), Castlebar (094 902 1378 ), Claremorris (094 937 1830 ); Westport (098 24419 ); Crossmolina (096 30935 ); Ballina (096 75573 ) and Knockmore (094 925 8016 ). Many of these community groups also offer services such as meals-on-wheels, which may also be useful during the winter months. All befrienders are trained by the HSE, have received garda clearance, and make calls from their local centre. People will only get a call if they ask for one and a person can decide what time and day it suits them best to get a call. They can stop receiving calls whenever they want to and there is no charge for this service. For more information on the Befriending Mayo service, you can contact the HSE at 094 904 9064 or phone your local service (numbers listed above ).
The Road Safety Authority and An Garda Síochána launched their Christmas and New Year Road Safety Campaign earlier this week, in collaboration with the National Spinal Injuries Unit in the Mater Hospital. We should always be mindful of road safety particularly over the coming weeks and hope that no family in Mayo suffers any loss on our roads this Christmas. Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said: “Over the festive period, we will be dedicating our resources to stamping out irresponsible, risky behaviour on our roads. But I would like to remind everyone that this is not about catching people, it’s about protecting each and every person who uses the roads so that we can all have a safe and happy Christmas and New Year.”
So with a few days left until the revelries begin, bear in mind those around us who may not find Christmas as joyful. Take time to talk to loved ones, friends and neighbours and through a conscious effort of mutual support hopefully everyone will get through this Christmas period and look forward to a happy New Year.