The Depression Grinch

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Rates of suicide go down around Christmas[1]; rates of depression, however, go up.[2] This is in part attributable to high levels of support over the holiday season and the impact made by Seasonal Affective Disorder – where sufferers experience low mood, most commonly throughout the winter months – respectively. But it would be to ignore a growing problem in this country to not also recognise the part played by loneliness, particularly, but by no means exclusively, among the elderly.

It is Christmas Day 2012. Most, including I am sure you, are revelling in food and family, exchanging gifts and warmth, as well as the occasional cutting remark with an obtuse and buffoonish uncle. 250,000 elderly people sit lonely and alone.[3]

We are a society which does not care, for the most part, for the vulnerable amongst us. It is a problem which has long persisted – I hark back to no communal golden age, as one does not exist – but it has been exacerbated since Heath and Thatcher’s premierships, and the ever increasing focus on the individual paying their own way, and a decreasing emphasis on government sponsorship of well-being as was exemplified by the post-War Butskellist consensus. Anyone looking for evidence of the continuing dominance of this highly individualistic political paradigm need look no further than Boris Johnson’s recent comments in the annual Margaret Thatcher lecture praising to the high heavens the virtues of greed and inspiring envy in others. This approach to politics is music to the ears to those who have, but for those who have not, including a damning proportion of Britain’s elderly, as well as the homeless (there were 2,309 people sleeping rough on any one night in England in 2012[4]) and an increasing number of younger people, it is the sound of your society deserting you.

Uncomfortably close as it is to the kind of rhetoric which would make Ayn Rand proud, I do not wish, here at least, to decry Johnson’s words. I do not wish to propose a radical restructuring of society, or unprecedented wealth distribution. I would like both those things, but I know I am not going to get them, and I do not think I should have to wait until I do before I ask how we can make Christmas a little happier for those who are not.

The government, largely through what remains of the NHS, plays an admirable role in keeping Britain happy, though the services they do provide are by no means sufficient. It is becoming more and more widely acknowledged that mental health is at least equally as important as physical health. What I propose is that, alongside current provisions, the government gives Christmas to those who want it, and who would otherwise go without.

What, precisely, this would involve, I cannot say. This is not a policy proposal, rather it is a proposition in a debate, a debate which I think we ought to start. Would there be government turkey? Government baubles? Government presents? I do not know, but perhaps. You may laugh and shake your head knowingly at my naïvité, but I see no reason why the principle that has already made such a huge amount of difference in so many lives through church groups and friendship clubs, as well as social support networks for the homeless and young, cannot also justify government run social occasions at Christmas.

Government should be there for all aspects of our life, if we need it. Government should pick people up who have otherwise been left behind by a sneering, Thatcherite economy. Like it or not, Christmas is a massive occasion in the UK still, even if is more for the food and presents, and less for religious reasons. It is not fair to leave people to fend for themselves at Christmas, leaving them out in the cold whilst we all eat turkey if they are not lucky enough to have anyone to spend the time with. The government should not leave people to be miserable and if, over the holiday season, this means giving some of them a government Christmas, then so be it.

[1] http://emj.bmj.com/content/21/6/716.full.pdf+html

[3] http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/timesappeal/article3614770.ece

[4] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/rough-sleeping-in-england-autumn-2012

Written by Sean Mcintosh. Edited by Gregory Pichorowycz