Tis the season to be (not so) jolly: Mental health at Christmas


Christmas can be a magical time of the year, but for some people it can be an emotionally challenging time and with pressure increasing year on year, it’s a time that can play havoc with our mental health.

Among the chaos of shopping, retail adverts, festive lattes and that image of a “perfect” Christmas; for some people, this time of year can conjure up feelings of dread, loneliness and sadness. Whilst Christmas is unavoidable, it is important to highlight that when it comes to festivities in the workplace, there are employees who struggle for various reasons, and the problem with this is that it is not always obvious as employees are often reluctant to talk about it which can make it difficult to offer relevant support.

The subject of equality and diversity is not just about religion, racial backgrounds and disabilities; there are often inclusion issues that we cannot see on application forms and health questionnaires. This can make the situation for employers unpredictable and facing a festive dilemma to keep the balance of those who enjoy and those who don’t enjoy the season.

Christmas can be the busiest time for HR and an increase in employment relations cases can rocket, with absence, performance and conduct issues a plenty. When it comes to mental health the primary concerns we regularly see are increases in stress, anxiety and depression, which are often linked to external factors such as financial worries, family pressures and relationship troubles.

Taking this into account, a 2016 survey conducted by mental health charity Mind, suggested that one in ten people aged between 25 and 34 said that they have no one to spend Christmas with, compared with one in twenty older people. This only highlights that this is a much wider issue, not just now, but in years to come.

One way of offering support is simple and it starts with by being aware and providing careful consideration to the feelings of others. This can go a long way to opening doors of communication with employees at all levels; if a colleague doesn’t want to go to the office Christmas party, there is probably a good reason, do not to force them into a situation that makes them uncomfortable.

There are ways of sending out a more subtle message; such as promoting resources that may already be available, for example the Employee Advisory Programme, or putting together a poster with helpful links to support services like the Samaritans, Mind and Step Change debt charity.

Irrespective of the reasons behind the conflict of Christmas; employers and employees both have a part to play to help support those who are dreading the festive season and its not as easy as telling someone to “get in the festive spirit”. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas at work, but I do think that we need to be more aware and sensitive towards those that find it a difficult time.

What are your experiences of promoting support to those who need it the most at Christmas? Are there any organisations that have a model that all organisations should consider? Let me know you thoughts and comment below.


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