Written: December 12, 2022
It can feel particularly hard this year to watch television adverts that portray families and friends sitting around dining tables that heave under the weight of lavish feasts, exchanging beautifully wrapped presents, wide-eyed with anticipation.
I work at a Suicide Crisis Centre and we are witnessing the deprivation and additional suffering caused by the cost of living crisis. The individuals at our Crisis Centre are already experiencing acute emotional pain, often as a result of painful or traumatic life events and life circumstances. Now, in addition to this, they face the hardship of being cold and without sufficient food.
The television adverts portraying lavish abundance seem particularly incongruous this year and it led me to think: What if the central focus of our Christmas could be profoundly different, for those of us who do not have a religious faith to guide the way we perceive it? What if Christmas was a time where we all carried out acts of kindness, rather than giving presents? What if children grew up to associate Christmas with kindness instead?
I always remember as a small child watching the film “Little Women” at Christmas, and being struck by the scene where the mother tells her daughters that a family living nearby is cold and without a fire, and hungry because they have no food. They take their Christmas Day breakfast and share it with the nearby family.
What if Christmas could be about this – thinking of all the different ways we could be caring and giving and socially responsible towards other people, particularly if they are struggling – and that this was the main focus of what we do at this time of year?
It might mean that people would be encouraged to volunteer more. Last year a colleague and I spent Christmas Day travelling out to individuals in suicidal crisis across our region. It meant that we spent all day in the company of extraordinary individuals in crisis. They are struggling severely but their unique individual personal qualities are so evident, in the midst of their suffering: their courage, their kindness, their thoughtfulness and concern for other people. My colleague commented that there was no other way that he would have wished to spend Christmas. Our Suicide Crisis Centre is staffed entirely by volunteers.
Kindness and caring has a particular importance in suicide prevention work. It is vital in the work that we do every day to support individuals in crisis, and it is something that every member of the public can offer. You may never know that the person you pass on the street today, sitting in a shop doorway, is having suicidal thoughts – or the colleague sitting at the nearby desk at your workplace, or the neighbour three doors down from you. Acts of caring and kindness can make a profound difference, as I learned from my own experience.
A few years ago I experienced a suicidal crisis that led to my being admitted to psychiatric hospital. On the evening I discharged myself, I walked out into a world that seemed bleak and uncaring. Depression was influencing my thinking, distorting my world view. I expected to go unnoticed on the streets of the city. But I experienced the opposite – I encountered so many people who were concerned about a lone female on the streets. Two homeless men offered to give me a blanket because they were concerned that I was cold. A Polish man phoned his wife who spoke to me on the phone and urged me to come to their home for a hot drink and food. None of them knew that I was feeling suicidal. I was not obviously distressed in any way. They were reacting instinctively and with exemplary humanity to someone who appeared vulnerable and in need.
At a time when I was suffering, their caring response not only provided comfort – it reminded me of the innate goodness in people at a time when I was struggling to see any positive aspect of being alive.
There is a marked increase in the number of people accessing our Suicide Crisis Centre in December, and in particular over Christmas and New Year. So it is even more important to be kind at this time of year. It can be lifesaving to someone in a suicidal crisis.
For more information about the Suicide Crisis Centre: https://www.suicidecrisis.co.uk/
Joy Hibbins is the author of “The Suicide Prevention Pocket Guidebook” and “Suicide Prevention Techniques”: Suicide Prevention Techniques | Suicide Crisis