THE happy scenes the word "Christmas" conjures is not the reality everyone experiences.
With the festive season now in full swing there is images of presents, meals and catch ups with family and friends and the idea of it being "the most wonderful time of the year" everywhere.
While that may be the case for some, it can also be a difficult and tough time for many.
There's plenty who are apart from their family and friends, especially due to the challenges presented by 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, others have had a tough year losing a loved one or their job or the festive season might even bring back certain memories better left forgotten.
With the festive season certainly a happy time of year, the NSW Murrumbidgee Primary Health Network (MPHN) said it was important to recognise that Christmas wasn't always picture perfect.
However, they are tools everyone can equip themselves with to get through this period unscathed.
MPHN senior manager mental health, drug and alcohol Anita McRae said dealing with the pressures presented by the festive season could be difficult for many.
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She said taking care of mental health at a personal level, as well as being on the look out for those around us, were all crucial at this time of year.
"The festive season can be hard for many reasons," Ms McRae said.
"While this is a very exciting time for many people, it's also a really difficult time for many others.
"Some people are estranged from family and friends or spending Christmas without people they have lost.
"Social situations can be quite triggering for people.
"In a normal year (pre COVID-19) it can be a tough time and you layer on what 2020 has been and it can be really hard."
Ms McRae said being mindful of how people around us were feeling was key.
It is also vital to set realistic expectations during the festive season.
The lead up to Christmas can be hectic and frantic in many ways, so Ms McRae recommended not putting too much pressure on each other at this time.
"Let's get some time out, let's set some time aside for the people we want to spend time with ... it's really key to keep ourselves in check," she said.
"It's been a tough year for so many people. I think what we have learned this year is we are human. People have had some really significant losses in 2020.
"I'm hearing people say 'thank god 2020 is almost over, bring on 2021', but there isn't going to just be this magic fix or be miraculously different from January 1.
"We need to not put too much pressure onto that way of thinking."
For those sitting and thinking about their loved ones who may be suffering at this time, particularly with their mental health, there is a way to help.
At a basic level it is asking this person if they are okay and sitting and listening to them.
The MPHN also offers a free online course that takes less than an hour to complete, but it arms people with knowledge and skills to identify warning signs that someone may be suicidal, the confidence to talk to them about these thoughts and ways to connect them with professional care.
"You will never regret asking if someone is okay or how they are going," Ms McRae said.
"You will regret it if you don't or you think someone else will do it.
"You don't need to be a mental health expert. If you think someone might be suffering, there's a good chance they probably are, so it is important to reach out."
You will never regret asking if someone is okay or how they are going.MPHN senior manager mental health, drug and alcohol Anita McRae
With the festive season plastered everywhere it is easy for people with mental health issues to feel as though they should be acting or feeling a certain way.
Ms McRae said this wasn't the case, which is why it was important for everyone to look out for one another, as well as themselves at an individual level.
More information about the MPHN's free course for Murrumbidgee residents can be found at mphn.org.au/qpr.
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