While Christmas is promoted as a time of joy and celebration, for half a million Australians it evokes a fear of physical or emotional abuse.
New research has found one in four Australian adults experienced anxiety, three million experienced depression and two million experienced social isolation when thinking back to last Christmas.
The research, released as part of the Salvation Army Christmas Appeal painted a bleak picture of the reality that people face.
Not surprisingly, the Roy Morgan study also found that for 7.6 million Australians Christmas is the most stressful time of year and six million people spend more than they can afford during the festive season.
Warrnambool Salvation Army Corps Officer Major Peter Wood was not surprised by the findings seeing first-hand the pressures local families faced at Christmas.
He said it put financial strain on individuals and the family budget, and it was also a lonely and sad time for others. He said the Warrnambool branch had experienced unprecedented demand for financial and welfare support in the lead up to Christmas.
“I think there's an expectation of doing certain things at Christmas time,” Major Wood said. “People on low incomes are struggling.
“Surveys have been done for years about how (Centrelink payment) Newstart covers the very basics. If you can get accommodation at a reasonable cost that you can afford, you may be able to make ends meet but at Christmas time it's certainly not doable.”
“We certainly see people who struggle at Christmas time to afford gifts.
He described the demand for support in the Warrnambool region in the lead up to Christmas as “incredible” and with welfare appointments booked weeks in advance.
“Christmas causes stress, anxiety, depression. Things like that certainly are heightened at this time of year when people aren't able to connect with people.
“Social isolation is big factor with that because they want to share something with somebody else but don't have the ability to do so.
“People's ability to do that is diminished at Christmas time with a low income and things like that.”
The Salvation Army’s Bruce Harmer said the organisation’s staff saw hardship on a daily basis but the latest information was eye-opening.
“These results are surprising and suggest the real picture of poverty in Australia is worse than previously thought,” Mr Harmer said.
“Hardship and loneliness hits hardest during the Christmas period. Across the country there are literally millions of Australians needing support.
Major Harmer says the Salvos will likely see an increased strain on its services this Christmas, in what will be their busiest time of year with about 300,000 people turning to them for help.
Major Harmer says it’s important to remember those who will be going it alone this festive season.
“Hardship and loneliness hits hardest during the Christmas period. Across the country there are literally millions of Australians needing support. So please, donate to The Salvation Army and help us give hope where it’s needed most this Christmas.”
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