Louise Cooney and Pieta House want you to reach out for mental health support this Christmas

Christmas for many people can be the most wonderful time of year – the lights, the family get togethers, the food, the presents…

But for a lot of people, it can be a reminder of loved ones lost. In a time that’s supposed to be merry and bright, many of us can simple feel disconnected form the joy and fun around us, isolated by mental health struggles or bereavement.

Which is why it’s so important to raise awareness of not only the services out there to help at this time of year that can be difficult, but to also let people know that there is someone close to them who can listen and help. Going through mental health struggles alone only makes the problem worse, which is why Pieta House’s Christmas campaign is switching it up this year.

Pillar Candle Near Clear Glass Window

This is the second year of their campaign, and the message is still very important, especially as we know this December and January are likely to be tougher than ever with rising speculation around Covid restrictions.

Instead of a minute’s silence, Pieta encourages people to ‘Shine a Light’ and choose #HopeOverSilence this Christmas by lighting a candle and ‘speaking up’ to a loved one or about their own mental health.

Join the Pieta ambassadors, Shane Carthy and Louise Cooney, by placing a candle in your window to support Pieta’s #HopeOverSilence appeal. Instead of a moment’s silence, call a friend, talk to a family member or housemate, or join in the social #HopeOverSilence conversation to help us all feel connected this Christmas.

Over one third of people who require Pieta’s services cite loneliness as the reason they are feeling hopeless. This coupled with the darkness at this time of year can really bring people down and be challenging for people struggling with mental health or bereavement. It’s important to open conversations and support those around you including friends, family, work colleagues and housemates.

We caught up with Louise Cooney to see how she handles the mental health challenges that have come up for everyone in the year or so.

‘I had to be really strict with myself and try keep a routine. Exercise was my saviour, it allowed me to forget about everything and get fresh air and feel good and strong and healthy.

‘As well as that, I tried to write as much as I could. If I was ever upset about something I’d write it down and I also kept a gratitude journal which was really helpful. It’s brilliant for reminding you of the simple good things in every day, because all we had in lockdown was the simple things. So it might have been something like a nice lunch with mam or playing with the dog or something simple like that – and it does change your mindset. It trains your mind to be grateful for the small things. I was reading a lot to try to escape the reality of what we were living through!’

But Louise also advocated for the importance of reaching out and sharing problems and issues that may be coming up in your mental health journey, especially at this time of year.

‘Most important, I think was just checking in with my friends and family if I was ever feeling upset, just picking up the phone and making the time to call them and have a rant or a cry or whatever.’

‘I think it’s because it’s so important to check in on everyone. After the almost 2 years that we’ve been through, everybody is coping differently and going through different things. It’s important, especially coming up to Christmas, if anyone has lost someone or if anyone is sick, it’s really important to check in. Pieta actually have a bereavement counsellor, which could be helpful for people coming up to Christmas. Obviously, Christmas is a time to get together and connect, but it can also be a really lonely and hard time for people.’

Louise, who has her own experiences with loved one’s mental health struggles also emphasised the importance of reaching out to the help available, like Pieta’s This year Pieta’s bereavement helpline. Pieta therapists have provided almost 4,700 hours of bereavement therapy through the Suicide Bereavement Liaison Service. If you or anyone you know is suffering this year the service can be contacted on 1800 247 247, you can also text HELP to 51444 (standard message rates apply).

‘Reach out to someone that you trust,’ she said, ‘Let them know you’re really struggling and finding it hard right now and be really honest about how hard it is. Or if you feel like you don’t have someone there or they’re not getting the support you need, to reach out to one of the mental health charities, a lot their call lines are free in Ireland, including Pieta, 24/7, and they also have text lines. Or else go to your doctor.

‘I think mental health is such a hard topic to talk about and not everyone is going to be good at it or know what to say. But you need to shout for yourself. And if you can’t shout for yourself you need to ask somebody to shout for you, to get the help you need, whether that’s talking to someone or medication or just having someone there to listen. ‘

As 80% of Pieta’s funding comes from the public, support is vital to help continue this lifesaving work. Pieta runs a range of services nationwide to support people and communities in crisis, including free counselling services and support for those who are at the risk of suicide, engaging in self-harm and those bereaved by suicide. All services are provided free of charge and no referral is needed. For more information or to make a donation this Christmas, see here.