WHILE Christmas can be a very merry time of year, for many, the festive season can also be one of loneliness, isolation and distress.
It is why a new "holiday" campaign - led by an alliance of mental health and suicide prevention organisations - is encouraging people to check in on friends, family and loved ones to offer an ear, a shoulder, and some extra support this Christmas and New Year.
Associate Professor Carmel Loughland, the acting director of Newcastle-based Everymind, said the #YouCanTalk campaign was calling on all Australians to play a more active role in preventing suicide in their own communities.
"It can be a very stressful time of year," she said. "It tends to be the time we are thinking about family, and some of us are having more difficulty - sometimes more distress - because we can't always be with family, or because some of the relationships are difficult.
"You Can Talk is an opportunity for people to think about how they might start that conversation with somebody they think might not be feeling alright."
Professor Loughland said looking out for each other was "really important".
"Most of us know when our friends or our family just don't seem themselves," she said. "That's the time we need to step in. It is OK to talk to people and tell them what you have noticed, and ask them to tell you what has been happening. Sometimes just having that conversation is enough, but when it's not enough, that's a chance to say, 'Let's think about where we can go from here'. We often think we have to have some great big answer, but we don't.
"In the past, people felt they had to have specific suicide training to be able to do this, and what all of these organisations are saying - together - is that, no, the important thing is to let people know they are not alone," she said.
"Anybody can have a #YouCanTalk conversation, at any time, with their family and friends."
Professor Loughland said it was worth checking in on all of our loved ones - even the ones who seem to have everything under control.
"This time of year is stressful, and people might be more vulnerable than we realise," she said. "Some don't look like they are having a problem right now - but they can be treading water quickly underneath while on top they appear to be calm - but it doesn't always mean they are."
For more information about how to start the conversation, visit lifeinmindaustralia.com.au/youcantalk, or find Life In Mind on Facebook.