Problems that may have been hidden during the year can come to the surface when families and friends get together over the festive season, NHS England expert Professor Alistair Burns said.
Previous research has indicated the nation’s mental health comes under particular stain at Christmas – a survey of UK adults by Samaritans found 50% hid their feelings at this time of year to keep others happy. A separate survey by Mind revealed nearly 60% of people with mental health problems experienced panic attacks over the festive period.
In older relatives, emotional changes can also be the first indication that someone has dementia, Professor Burns said.
[Read More: What Christmas Is Like With Depression]
Signs of depression can include low mood, tearfulness, feeling exhausted and having less energy. Your loved one may have disrupted sleep, find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning and have difficulty concentrating. You may also notice they have a loss of appetite.
A change in mood and behaviour can be one of the first signs of dementia. Other signs include memory loss, difficulty performing familiar tasks, problems with language, and disorientation with time and place. Your loved one may also show poor or decreased judgement, misplace things and seem withdrawn from social activities.
“There are lots of reasons why people might be forgetful or absent-minded at such a busy time of the year but it could also be the sign that something can be wrong,” said Professor Burns. “Getting a diagnosis – whether it is for depression or dementia – is the first step in accessing the best help and support.”
Burns particularly called on people in long-term relationships to look out for changes in their partner, saying when we’ve been with someone for a long time it’s easy to dismiss certain behaviour as just a “bad mood”.
“The important thing is to look for changes in normal behaviour,” he said. “If your partner is down and forgetful or feels they may not be able to cope with the thought of Christmas, it would be worth getting them checked out by their GP.”
Anyone who is concerned about a friend or family member should listen carefully and sympathetically to their concerns, and encourage them to get help.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- 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.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.