THE BLOG

Blue Monday Trivialises Mental Illness

18/01/2016 11:50 GMT | Updated 17/01/2017 10:12 GMT

The phenomenon of 'Blue Monday' supposedly occurs on the third Monday of January every year and is said to be the most depressing day of the year. The quiet-down after Christmas, return to work and dark, cold weather can indeed make it a difficult time of year for many people.

On Blue Monday (18 January) we can expect to see volumes of coverage in the news media pegged to the date offering tips on stress, anxiety and depression to help us beat what's billed as the worst day of the year for our moods.

Awareness days can provide a platform to bring serious issues to the fore, like mental health. It's good to have a focus on mental wellbeing but, as a psychologist, I see Blue Monday as less than ideal. In fact, it should come with its own health warning.

First of all, there's no such thing as the most depressing day of the year. Blue Monday was created back in 2005 to gain news coverage for a firm selling holidays.

It's based on a formula that's since been discredited. But the idea tapped into the post-Christmas zeitgeist and Blue Monday's now solidly ingrained in the annual news calendar with #BlueMonday trending every year on Twitter.

Essentially, it's become a topic that brands use to sell products rather than a true forum for discussion on mental wellbeing. It trivialises serious mental health issues by tagging them to one day of the year.

It badges the likes of depression as a condition that's about being upset with the cold January weather, Christmas debts and the back to work humdrum that can be solved by a shopping spree, snuggling up with a hot chocolate or contemplating starting a new hobby.

Depression doesn't come and go in a day. Anyone who's experienced the illness knows there's a vast gulf between the blues of Blue Monday and a serious mental health problem and the notion that there's one dark day in the year suggests that we all need to pick up and get back to normal afterwards.

We live in a world in which it's still difficult for people to acknowledge their own mental health problems - never mind discuss them with others. This is largely down to the ongoing issue of stigma. This stigma is what a mental health awareness day should really be tackling.

Stigma stops people from admitting to themselves that they have a mental health problem for fear of the consequences of having this type of illness. In turn stigma stops people from seeking out help from health professionals. And, in turn again, stigma stops people from reaching out to family and friends for support. In the end, stigma compounds mental illness and results in a worsening of conditions.

When you think of it like this, it's clear to see why this 'awareness day' genuinely does little or nothing for the advancing of the conversation around mental health. The sad thing about the way this day is used by brands is that those brands could put their efforts behind Blue Monday by committing to discussing real mental health issues.

Wouldn't it be great to see a main fashion retailer put out a manifesto, committing to ending stigma in the workplace around mental illness rather than sending out ads, tweets and emails telling you to beat the blues by spending money?

Wouldn't it be encouraging to see the media veer away from top tips and advice and instead using the calendar date as a reason to highlight the issues surrounding mental illness for Brits in 2016?

Mental health charities work hard at being part of the Blue Monday conversation, offering insightful comment and advice. However, they are so often drowned out by the sheer volume of chatter coming from the shallow end of the pool.

It's interesting to note that the word 'Depression' is googled every two seconds in the UK on Blue Monday. If there's one good thing to come out of this day, perhaps it's that some people will better understand any symptoms they might be experiencing and seek out help.

But, please, let's work at making mental health and mental illness an ongoing conversation after this year's Blue Monday.