On my way to parliament this morning I heard a report on the radio that the number of calls to Childline had increased last Christmas; now the charity claims that there is a positive way to look at this as it shows that more children are aware of the service and feel like it’s reassuring that children know they have someone to talk to.
It got me to thinking that Christmas, while a wonderful time of year for so many, can often leave many vulnerable people feeling alone and more isolated. The Samaritans have made it clear that they have a huge increase in the volume of users looking for support over of the festive period, and a quarter of users say that Christmas intensifies feelings of loneliness and depression.
This year I decided to break my silence on mental health, especially around the issues of men discussing their emotions. I consider myself to be very fortunate at this time of year, my office is busy with activity, I still have my mum who I can go and visit, and Christmas day is spent with my sons and grandchildren. Yes, Christmas is a happy time of year, but if I’m honest I’ve spent many a Christmas period with that inexplicable “knot in my tummy”, everyone is so full of cheer and I’m pretty sure it’s expected that I would feel the same glee; but sometimes my anxieties were just heightened by all the hustle and bustle. If that’s how I feel when I’m surrounded by people who love and care for me, then I can’t imagine what it’s like for those who will see through the holiday period on their own.
Older people come to our minds first, family long gone and only distant relatives who can’t just swing by. People with mobility issues who rely on carers for company, but on Christmas day rely on the TV and a microwavable meal for comfort. There are single parents who don’t see their children till boxing day, or maybe they don’t see them at all; an altogether different but isolating experience. I could sit here all day listing the many reasons why people may suffer from loneliness, but I think you see where I’m coming from.
Isolation isn’t the only issue, I work very closely with the charitable organisation Debt Change Scotland, and just last week they were telling me as early as boxing day people call their helpline panic stricken about the money spent, or debt accumulated over Christmas. In my last blog I told of how my favourite present each year was a shiny new football; but my childhood Christmases weren’t yesterday.
These days the pressures on parents to provide gadgets and toys in all shapes and sizes are ever increasing, no parent wants to let their child down and this can prove to cause no end of stress. I saw a Facebook post criticising parents in poverty spending money on their children, but who are we to judge? Imagine your whole year is spent in the misery of just getting by from one week to the next, it’s not too hard to understand that people will do anything the can to secure a little joy for their children.
It’s not for us to judge each other and Christmas should represent a time of caring, love and compassion. I was so overjoyed with the response to my toy campaign and it was lovely to see how thankful local organisations were for these many gifts. However, my heart still felt deeply saddened that a collection such as this was needed in 2017. I’m looking forward to spending Christmas with my loved ones this year, but I can’t help thinking about those who may be struggling, especially with mental health.
To that end I’ve ensured that my office managers email will be checked every day so if my constituents need information on charitable organisations or just a friendly pointer in the right direction over Christmas they can get in touch.
James Dornan is SNP MSP for Glasgow Cathcart
If you’re one of James’s constituents, you can find Christmas contact details here.
If not, here are some contact details of organisations can reach if you need a bit of support.