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Christmas Crisis: Domestic Violence, Suicide Calls Spike In Holiday Period

Christmas is a particularly hard time of year for more people than you might think.

As much of the country closes down over the holiday period, crisis phone centres are expecting their busiest time yet.

Suicide hotline Lifeline is expecting around 40,000 calls in the two weeks around the Christmas and New Year period, while domestic and family violence hotline 1800 Respect saw a 22 percent increase in calls last December compared to the previous month.

Lifeline chair John Brogden told Studio 10 despite the increase in calls to their service, "a lot of people will suffer in silence".

"We're meant to be happy, aren't we?" he said on Friday.

"All the messages are happy messages, they're about participating and spending time with friends and family and of course that's just not the reality for many more people than we think."

Contrary to popular belief, Christmas can be a difficult time of year for many. Photo: Getty.

It can be a particularly difficult time for people already dealing with mental illness, who are alone at Christmas, or who may have recently lost a loved one, Brogden said.

He added people may be reluctant or embarrassed to reach out, but Lifeline will be there to help anyone who needs it, 24/7.

"The beauty of Lifeline is that we don't care who you are, we don't care what you've done," he said.

"We're anonymous. It's our role to help you through that difficult period."

Reports of domestic and family violence jump 25 percent over the festive season, according to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

Federal Labor MP Linda Burney urged Australians to watch out for the signs of abuse amongst friends, family members and workmates, and that it might not always be physical.

"We need to look for more than bruises -- manipulation, threats, coercion, humiliation, stalking and controlling behaviour are all forms of deistic violence," she said in a statement.

"If something seems wrong with someone you know, ask if they are okay. Don't leave it to chance."

How To Get Through The Holidays

If this time of year is stressful for whatever reason, there's a few things you can do to help get through.

Lifeline's advice includes the important message that you have a choice in how you spend your holiday season, and that it's okay to say no to things.

"It's okay to look after yourself. Don't feel the need to put yourself in upsetting situations for other people," Brogden said.

For people grieving the loss of a loved one to suicide, Life In Mind has some tips to help manage your emotions. Photo: Life In Mind.

If you are by yourself at Christmas and wish you weren't, volunteering at a local community centre, taking gifts to a children's hospital, or vising people in an aged care home can be an excellent way to boost self esteem and support others who may also be going through a rough holiday.

The Australian Medical Association is advising Australians to use social media positively, warning that spending too much time online -- particularly for young people -- can lead to feelings of isolation, lower self-esteem, and exposure to cyberbullying.

"Importantly, don't let social media get in the way of spending quality time with those around you," said AMA president Tony Bartone.

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But the most important thing to do if you feel you need it is to reach out: either to a friend, family member, Lifeline, or other support network.

Queer musician Brendan Maclean offered advice for LGBTI Australians who might be going home to a less-than-accepting family.

"Do talk before you get there, go easy on booze, remember their insecurities are not your problem, [and] have a reason to leave -- make one up, and make it known early. If it gets unacceptable, get out of there," he said on Twitter.

He also advised letting friends know a hard family visit is coming up, because "a few safety messages under the dinner table" can be a saviour during dinner.

"If Uncle Gary has decided his wish to be a drunken homophobe outweighs your need to be safe -- don't go. They don't deserve you."

How to support someone else struggling at Christmas

The number one thing to do is to look out for one another, said Brogden.

"All of our experience and research shows that if you're worried about somebody else, you should ask them questions," he said.

"Don't beat around the bush. You need to cut right through. You need to say: Are you okay? And keep asking until you break it open."

READ MORE: Australians Are Experiencing A Loneliness Crisis

If you or someone you know is struggling this holiday season, call Lifeline on 13 11 14, 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732, Kids Helpline (ages 5-25) on 1800 55 1800, MensLine on 1300 78 99 78, or InTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence on 1800 755 988.

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au