I stopped celebrating Christmas in 2013. It was the first Christmas that our Suicide Crisis Centre was open. We had started providing services in May of that year.
In the weeks leading up to that first Christmas, I became aware of the acute pain and distress that our clients felt, as the 25th December approached. For some, it was the first Christmas without a loved one, whether they had been separated by death, by relationship breakup or family breakup. After witnessing our clients experiencing so much pain as a result of Christmas, it never felt right to celebrate it again. I saw its impact upon them.
When I am in shops and hear Christmas songs being played, I think about how this is impacting upon people who find this time of year distressing. Music can touch people in such a profound way. The discrepancy between the bright happy festive songs and your own sadness can feel so striking.
We remain open throughout the Christmas and New Year period, and I work throughout that time. We always have a significant increase in the number of clients accessing our services.
For many clients, it is the build-up to Christmas that is the hardest. Once Christmas Day dawns, they may feel that at least this day will soon be over now, within hours. However, that is not the case for everyone and for some it is the darkest day for them, and the day that they may be most at risk. We are ready to go out to clients' houses as well as support them at our Suicide Crisis Centre. On a day when public transport services may be absent, our ability to do this becomes essential. They may not be able to get to us.
We do not witness only sadness on Christmas Day, though. We also hear from former clients who have recovered from crisis. It's so touching when this happens. We love to hear from them and find out what's happening in their lives now. Many people send photos to the charity's mobile phone on Christmas Day. In the same way that music can create an instant emotional response, so can a photo. The connection we build with our clients during their time with us is so important. We are trying to keep them connected with us and indeed with life, at a time when they may be trying so hard to disconnect from it. Our hope is that this connection endures long after they leave our services, so that if they are ever in crisis again in the future, they will know that they can return.
Despite not celebrating Christmas any more, I can appreciate some of its positive impact. I smile when I see the excitement of children as they anticipate the big day, and am happy for people who will be spending time with much-loved family members.
Although Christmas is predominantly a time of sadness for me, because it is for so many of our clients, it is still a time of hope. I believe that all our clients can survive, and indeed they all have so far. At our Suicide Crisis Centre, we care for them and do all we can to support them through this particularly dark time. It's a privilege to be able to do so. They have such wonderful qualities of kindness, selflessness, sensitivity, courage and integrity. Each client is unique in what they bring to the world. In the future, they will go out into the world and impact positively on other people's lives. Other people will have the benefit of encountering them. In the New Year, we can quietly celebrate that.
For information about the Suicide Crisis Centre: http://www.suicidecrisis.co.uk
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Useful websites and helplines:
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Rethink Mental Illness advice and information service is open 9:30 - 4pm Monday - Friday - 0300 5000 927. They have over 100 factsheets with easy to understand information on a variety of issues related to mental health
- CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) is a registered charity, which exists to prevent male suicide in the UK. Call 0800 58 58 58 or visit thecalmzone.net
- The Mix is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41