Take care this festive season


Christopher Carter, chief executive officer, North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network

The end of 2023 is rapidly approaching, and with it, for many, the opportunity for a bit of break from work and the prospect of catching up with friends and family for shared meals and celebrations.

However, as the old schoolyard saying reminds us, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

For some people the annual holiday period – which includes significant holy days for several faiths – can be difficult. This is one of the reasons mental health crisis services stay open across these weeks and, indeed, often see a spike in people needing help.

A big focus of the next month or so is family get-togethers. Extensive plans are made to organise everyone to gather in a single place for at least a few hours. For some this can feel less like a lovely prospect and more like a daunting task.

Despite the common picture of families as essentially strong, supportive and happy groupings, we all know that sometimes this is not the reality. Some families may contain toxic relationships – there can be arguments, fights and feuds that rise to the surface and spoil the day.

Many people feel obliged to ignore these prospects and turn up anyway, hoping, perhaps, that this time things will be ok (or, more practically, that so-and-so won’t be there).

But you know what? Spending time with people you dislike – even if they are blood – can significantly impact your mental health. Sometimes the safest and the strongest option might be to decline the family feast and stay home, warm and cosy, or go to visit friends.

Sometimes too the absence of individuals can also be difficult to bear. For lots of people this year’s annual family gathering, or faith service, will be the first following the death of a loved one. This can make it a very challenging experience, full of memories and grief.

For any reason, when holiday fun turns to holiday harm, some people feel that they should hide what they are feeling and soldier on. But this doesn’t have to be the case. It’s not a measure of weakness to seek a bit of help.

If it all gets a bit much for you this year, remember you can always visit Head to Health – a service funded by the Australian Government that can be found at headtohealth.gov.au.

Head to Health makes it easier to find the most suitable care options for you, whether that’s face-to-face, by phone, or online. Between 8.30am and 5pm on weekdays (except public holidays) you can make a free call on 1800 595 212 for gentle, expert and confidential mental health guidance and advice.

Information is available in multiple languages, and is tailored for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people, LGBTIQ+ folk and other groups.

Another good option is a service called CAREinMIND, which provides free phone counselling for people living, working or studying in Melbourne’s northern, central and western suburbs. You can reach the team 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 1300 096 269, or visit the website at careinmind.com.au

Here at North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network we play a big role in running both these services, and I can tell you that they will be operational throughout the holiday period. They are staffed by amazing people – and I thank them for their care and dedication.

Of course, if you need immediate assistance, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for crisis support, or an ambulance on 000 if it’s an emergency. These wonderful folks don’t stop for the holidays either!