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Supporting your physical and mental wellbeing this festive season

With the festive season fast approaching health professionals are encouraging everyone to be prepared and aware of their health care options and to look out for the wellbeing of others.

Dr Hasan Chowhan, a GP in Colchester and chairman of NHS North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “There are some quick and simple actions you can take which represent the foundations of good winter health care. If you are in an at-risk group make sure you have a flu vaccination. Keep a supply of basic medicines at home so you can deal with minor illness and injury more easily. And, if you use repeat prescription medicine make sure you’ll have enough to last over the holidays. It takes at least 48 hours for your GP practice to process a repeat prescription request.”

Dr Christopher Browning, a GP in Long Melford and chairman of NHS West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “This time of year can be lonely for many people, so make time for elderly relatives and neighbours. You might be the only person they see or talk to for days or a week or more. By giving them some time you really could boost their mental wellbeing and bring some festive cheer to their lives."

Dr Mark Shenton, a GP in Stowmarket and chairman of NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “This is one of the busiest times of year for the NHS so I urge people to firstly visit their local pharmacy or to call NHS 111 if they are feeling unwell. By doing this, it means reducing pressure on GP practices and our hospital emergency department staff, enabling them to deal with life-threatening emergencies. NHS 111 is available by ‘phone and online 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Some pharmacies will be open on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.”

Dr Rosalind Tandy, a GP in Bury St Edmunds and mental health lead for NHS West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We can all take some simple steps to improve our mental wellbeing such as being more active, even if it's just going for a walk. Be aware of how much you are drinking because alcohol is a depressant and could increase your levels of anxiety.

"Please take some time to look out for others who might be spending the festive season alone and remember there is help and support out there. If you live in Suffolk you can access Live Life To The Full online resources to help you if you are feeling low, stressed or depressed. The NHS Moodzone has lots of useful advice too. Kooth offers online counselling and support for young people. Download the Stay Alive app which is a suicide prevention tool for anyone with suicidal thoughts or if you know someone considering suicide. And, at any time of day or night, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123."

Cllr James Reeder, Suffolk County Council's Cabinet Member for Health, said: “The Christmas period is generally a time to enjoy yourself and look forward to time with friends and family. However, for some, the combination of loneliness, debt and the expectations that accompany the run up to Christmas can have devastating consequences. 

“We are fortunate to have some outstanding support services here in Suffolk, ready to listen and offer advice and more than 150 people in the county have signed the pledge to be Suffolk Life Savers.  

“Suicide has far-reaching effects on family, friends and entire communities. No-one should feel they are alone, or that this is the only option. If you are struggling, talk to friends and loved ones about how you are feeling. If you are concerned about the wellbeing of others, from friends to family members, you can seek advice about how you can help. If you know someone who might be lonely this Christmas, give them a call or pop round to see them. Even a little attention can mean a great deal.”

The Five Ways to Wellbeing gives advice on easy, free and meaningful activities people can do to improve wellbeing. Similar to the five-a-day fruit and vegetable message, the framework proposes the following elements, which evidence suggests can make a positive impact to an individual’s health:

  • Connect with others
  • Be active
  • Keep learning
  • Take notice
  • Give 

Cllr Reeder added: “These simple steps can be crucial to preventing mental ill health in the longer term. This can be as simple as trying something new, conversing with people around you or keeping active through regular exercise.”
Ezra Ewing, head of mental health education at Suffolk Mind, said: “Many people look forward to Christmas – having a break from work and spending time with family and friends. But for some people, with an unmet need to feel part of the wider community or to have an emotional connection with somebody close, Christmas can be a time of loneliness and social isolation. 

“Unmet emotional needs – especially concerning the loss of a supportive relationship and accompanying feelings of social isolation – are risk factors for suicide.

“If you know somebody whose needs may be poorly met, and who may be experiencing these feelings, try to reach out and encourage them to stay connected to others as best you can. Human warmth and connection during the festive season might be the best gift you can give.”

Useful healthcare advice for the festive season

  • GP practices will be closed on Wednesday December 25, Thursday December 26 and Wednesday January 1. On other dates GP practices will be open their usual hour
  • Think Pharmacist - Many pharmacies have late night and weekend opening. A pharmacist can offer you a great deal of help and advice on the best over-the-counter medication for your condition. Keep a note of the opening hours of your nearest pharmacy and remember some pharmacies will be open on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day – see list of opening times and locations HERE
  • Repeat prescription - Remember to make sure you have enough repeat medication to last over the holidays. It normally takes at least 48 hours for your GP practice to process a repeat prescription. If you have forgotten to order your regular medicine and run out your pharmacist may be able to help by providing an emergency supply. Please remember to take your repeat slip or empty pack(s) with you to show the pharmacist what you usually take
  • Flu vaccination – It is not too late to protect yourself. People aged 65 and over, those living with a long-term health condition, pregnant women, main carers and some young children are entitled to a free flu vaccination. If you have an underlying health condition you are more susceptible to flu and if you catch it you are more likely to end up in hospital. Contact your GP practice or pharmacy and get protected
  • Be prepared - Having a well-stocked medicine cabinet means you will be able to self-care at home and deal with minor injury and illness that you or your family might suffer. Consider having a stock of paracetamol, anti-diarrhoeal medicine, rehydration mixture, indigestion remedy and plasters. Ask your pharmacist for advice
  • NHS 111 by telephone and online - This is a free telephone service which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year offering urgent medical help and advice. You can also access the NHS 111 Online service anytime HERE and by answering some questions your symptoms will be assessed and you'll be given the recommended action to take. NHS 111 can also connect you with the out-of-hours GP service
  • Don’t wait - If you have a long term pain e.g. back ache - don't wait until it's late at night or a public holiday until you do something about it. Make an appointment with your GP practice 
  • Evening, weekend and bank holiday appointments – Ask at your own GP practice during its usual opening hours about evening, weekend and bank holiday nurse and GP appointments. This is called the Suffolk GP+ service in Suffolk and Extended Access in north east Essex
  • Need a dentist? – If you need to see an emergency dentist call NHS 111
  • You are not alone – If you need someone to talk to you can call the Samaritans anytime on 116 123. Calls are free and the number will not appear on your telephone bill. You can find information to support your mental wellbeing at the NHS Moodzone HERE
  • Live Life To The Full - If you live in east or west Suffolk you can access a whole suite of online resources to support good mental wellbeing HERE
  • Kooth - In Suffolk and north east Essex young people aged 11 - 18 have access to online counselling HERE
  • Stay Alive Suicide Prevention App - More information and download free HERE

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