Even during the best of times Christmas can be an immensely challenging period for a lot of people. But with everything that has happened in 2020, this time round, especially so.

That's why people across Norfolk and Waveney are being reminded they do not have to suffer in silence this year as the mental health campaign - Not Alone - is relaunched.

The campaign is being run by Norfolk County Council (NCC), the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT), Norfolk and Waveney Mind and the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), in conjunction with the EDP and Norwich Evening News.

As part of this people are being encouraged to send a card to someone to show they are in your thoughts, which also signposts them to a range of services that can give them extra help.

%image(14529990, type="article-full", alt="Send an e-card to someone who could do with a bit help and kindness this Christmas")

You can find the e-card via this link, or by visiting https://t.email.archant.co.uk/lp/notalonethischristmas. Meanwhile a paper version will be available for free in next Friday's (18) EDP and Evening News editions.

For Nesta Reeve, a psychologist and the clinical lead for Wellbeing Services for NSFT, there is a myriad of reasons why someone's mental health might take a hit over the festive season.

This could come from the "pressures" of Christmas day itself, the financial cost, the possibility of relationship tensions bubbling to the surface, the need to partake in "festive" rituals and the fact that some people may not actually be in a position to celebrate with family, or want to.

She said: "Expectations on people are always incredibly high at Christmas, and even more so this year because we're being given this window of opportunity to socialise with each other.

"But that assumes everyone has someone to socialise with, and that's not the case.

%image(14529991, type="article-full", alt="Christmas will be tough for many people this year as they make the conscious decision to spend it without family on account of the virus")

"What's key is remembering that there is "no perfect Christmas". People should do what makes them happy, and not compare themselves to others.

"The most important thing is to take pressure off yourself."

%image(14529992, type="article-full", alt="Nesta Reeve, Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust’s (NSFT) Clinical Service Lead for Wellbeing services")

In terms of seeking professional help at Christmas, Ms Reeve said that it was "perfectly normal" - and that while people struggling with their mental health don't need to exclude family, they also don't need to rely on them for support.

She said: "It's important to remember that we still don't talk about our feelings nearly enough as we should, so if you do want to talk to a trained professional, it's not a sign you're giving in. The earlier you seek help the better, so things don't get worse."

Cllr Bill Borrett, NCC's member for adult social care, said: “The message here is that it’s okay not to be okay."

%image(14406416, type="article-full", alt="Councillor Bill Borrett, who is also chair of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Board")

“Many people experiencing a mental health problem will speak to their friends and family before they speak to a professional, so any support you can offer is valuable.

"If someone tells you that they are struggling, it's common not to know what to do or say, but you don't need any special training to show that you care. Just being there makes a difference.

"That’s exactly what this campaign is about – helping us all to be there for others – and telling us all where to find support should they need it.”

Dr Ardyn Ross, GP and mental health clinical lead for the Norfolk and Waveney CCG, said: "It's important to remember that there are many people who can help you over the festive period, especially if you are feeling low.

"Help the local health and care system spread the word by taking part in the Not Alone campaign this Christmas."

Where to find help and how to be helpful

The NHS Wellbeing Service is offering a range of talking therapies and social activities by telephone, video call, messaging and webinar for anyone experiencing low mood, depression or stress. You can self-refer by visiting www.wellbeingnands.co.uk or call 0300 123 1503.

The NSFT is running wellbeing socials - which include mince pies and chat, crafts and quiz - as a way of helping people connect with others. Events are open to everyone. You can find out more at: www.wellbeingnands.co.uk/norfolk/communitydevelopmentteam/social-events/

A podcast looking at how to stay well during over Christmas - via staying connected, self-care and reaching out for support - can be found at www.wellbeingnands.co.uk/norfolk/podcasts/

If you start to feel unsafe, or distressed, you can call the First Response helpline on 0808 196 3494 seven days a week through the festive period

You can donate to Norfolk and Waveney Mind's Christmas appeal to help others. £20 will pay for someone on a low income to have a 50-minute counselling session to help with their recovery: www.norfolkandwaveneymind.org.uk/how-you-can-help-us/fundraise-and-donate/counselling-for-christmas

Active Norfolk is holding a Twitter takeover on Tuesday December 15 from 2-3pm to help shine a light on the opportunities available in Norfolk to help anyone feeling lonely or isolated (@ActiveNorfolk)

Is kindness the key to happiness?

One of the best ways to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation over Christmas is by being kind to others.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the example of Malcolm Burgess, a 76-year-old dementia sufferer living in Bradwell.

%image(14529993, type="article-full", alt="Malcom Burgess, a dementia sufferer, with his Christmas Hamper put together by The Gorleston Memory Club, and delivered by Centre 81")

Stuart Burgess, his son and full-time carer, said the pandemic delivered a huge blow to his dad who, because of his vulnerability, was unable to see his friends or partake in his usual activities at The Gorleston Memory Club run by Sandra Edmonds and other volunteers.

He'd become lonely, and in turn, had withdrawn into himself. But on December 3, Mr Burgess said he experienced a moment where looking after his dad "became a moment to celebrate and be happy".

His dad was surprised with a Christmas hamper organised by the memory club, which was delivered by another Great Yarmouth charity, Centre 81.

Mr Burgess said: "We knew it was coming, so we let Dad open the door. When he saw the hamper, his eyes just lit up and he started laughing and clapping his hands.

%image(14529994, type="article-full", alt="Malcolm Burgess was overjoyed when he received his Christmas hamper, with his son Stuart believing that this "little act of kindness" truly did stir some of his dad's fond Christmas memories")

"It was a wonderful thought by the club, and this little act of kindness really made everything we do for dad completely worthwhile."