Tis the season of mixed feelings!

It’s that time of year again - carols are playing, tinsel is sparkling, and the word ‘merry’ hits peak use. For many, there are reasons to celebrate, feel happy and spread joy.

But it’s also the time when extra pressure can weigh you down. Pressure to meet deadlines before holidays, spend money you don’t have, overindulge in food and alcohol, spend time with people who don’t make you feel safe and accepted. For some, there’s the weight of expectation to look and act happy when really, they feel distressed, anxious, sad or lonely. 

To all those who find this time hard, support is available. We have many wonderful services in our community and caring people who will listen without judgement.

If your mental health is not great, now is the time to reach out, even if you've never felt like this or asked for help before. Over the Christmas and New Year period, you can call Head to Health on 1800 595 212 Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5pm (except public holidays). A trained professional will take your call, give you advice, and if you need it, connect you to the best support or service for you. No referral is needed. Or if you have noticed a change in behaviour of someone close to you and you are worried about their mental health, you can reach out to Head to Health too.

Wollongong Safe Haven will continue to operate as usual over the Christmas period. The Safe Haven is a non-clinical alternative to hospital emergency departments where you can go if you’re feeling distressed or having suicidal thoughts. You can talk to a peer worker openly about how you are feeling and what you’re going through. It’s free and you don’t need an appointment. Wollongong Safe Haven is located at 55 Urunga Parade and is open 2pm-10pm Wednesday to Saturday.

You can also find someone who will listen without judgement at 24/7 crisis lines like Lifeline (13 11 14), Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467) or 13YARN (13 92 76). For young people, eheadspace offers free phone and online support and there’s no waitlist (9am-1am, 1800 650 890 www.headspace.org.au/online-and-phone-support).

For those who have lost a loved one by suicide, StandBy Support After Suicide (24/7, phone 1300 727 247) and Thirrili Indigenous Postvention Support (24/7, phone 1800 805 801) can offer emotional and practical support.

One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is your attention. Throughout this holiday season, I encourage you to consider the people around you or perhaps notably absent. Reach in if you suspect someone isn’t doing well. Many people, especially when feeling low, don’t know how to ask for help but they might find some comfort in a kind conversation, a ‘walk and talk’, or a quick text to let them know you’re thinking of them.

You, yourself, also deserve the gift of your attention. Over the holiday season, it’s important to make time to look after your own mental health and wellbeing. Find realistic, practical actions you can take to improve your personal sense of wellbeing like taking a walk in the sunshine, getting enough sleep, or keeping alcohol consumption to healthy levels. 

Research suggests there’s one feeling in the mix that’s worth trying to actively cultivate - gratitude. Consistently carving out time to focus on the things you are grateful for diverts your attention from negative emotions such as anger, resentment, or envy.

If possible, take the time to write down things you are grateful for. Breathing deeply when in a challenging circumstance and focusing your mind to gratitude can help you get through a tough moment. Small gratitude’s count too, be it the sensation of cold water as you drink, a 2-minute break to stretch in the fresh air, or a friendly smile from a stranger.

At the Collaborative we have taken the opportunity to reflect on 2022 and celebrate the things we are grateful for. Like many, we have experienced the impact of natural disasters, the pandemic, and had to make big changes to adapt to ever-shifting circumstances. The work we do isn’t easy and there are no quick fixes.

We are deeply grateful for our relationships, and the kind, connected community we create through our work together. Despite the challenges, we remain connected, collaborative, and committed to our goal of reducing suicides in the Illawarra Shoalhaven. If you would like to join us in 2023, please get in touch via www.suicidepreventioncollaborative.org.au.


Jo Riley is an Executive Member of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative.

Thank you to the Illawarra Mercury for inviting Jo Riley, Executive Member of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative to share her thoughts for this opinion piece.