It’s normal to not feel normal this COVID Christmas, say mental health experts

WatchThis holiday season will be filled with some gut-wrenching changes. Without family and friends gathering together, it will be more solitary, which will inevitably have an impact on our mental health.

It’s one of the most social seasons of all: Christmas.

When we gather with extended family and friends to celebrate the long winter nights.

In pop culture, it’s often pitched as a joyful season, filled with would-be romance, family quirk, and love. But simmering behind all that ‘joy’ can be stress.

“I think there are expectations for people to feel that they’re all supposed to be enjoying this jolly happy time of year,” said Joanne Hogan with the Vancouver Island Crisis Society.

“There’s always those who feel left out of that particular cultural experience. And because of the pandemic, this year there will likely be people who will be feeling [left out], who are not accustomed to ever feeling that way.”

This year, it’ll be a COVID Christmas, and British Columbians are gearing up for a more isolated way of celebrating the holidays.

“It’s going to affect me lots. I lost my sister last month,” said one Victoria resident.

“I’m just going to be spending it alone mostly by myself in my suite,” said another.

“I was thinking about that last night. It’s kinda sad. A picture popped up on my Facebook of how we celebrated two years ago, and it just felt so foreign and strange,” said one man.

Because of the pandemic and subsequent restrictions, there will be no usual family fun or dinner parties with friends.

No, this holiday season will be quieter, smaller, and experts say, lonelier.

“When you layer something in like the pandemic, there likely is going to be a doubling down on the impact of celebrating a typically joyous time of year for many, amidst a very very challenging reality,” said Jonny Morris, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division.

And the fall leading up to the holiday season was already difficult.

According to Crisis Services Canada, call volumes to the Canada Suicide Prevention Service nationally, jumped up 159 per cent this year from August to October.

And mental health professionals think these next few weeks may get worse as people navigate an unusually isolated holiday season.

“We think there will be more contacts made by people who are feeling especially isolated during a time when social activity is supposed to be at its highest in the year,” said Hogan.

Around 40 per cent of Canadians say their mental health has deteriorated because of this pandemic.

So if you’re feeling irritable, angry, feeling your sleep patterns change, or pulling away socially, you’re not alone.

“The feelings, the emotions, the experiences, people are having in response to the pandemic, are typical reactions to an a-typical set of circumstances,” said Morris.

So this holiday season, don’t struggle alone.

There are apps, crisis lines (1-888-494-3888), free or low-cost virtual programs.

Bottom of the line, there’s help. So reach in, and reach out.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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