My sources tell me that today is “Blue Monday”. I must be getting old but life does seem to have become more complicated since I was a youngster. The fad for celebrating a different “issue” every day of the year seems to have crept up on us and the peculiar habit of attributing colours to certain days – Blue Monday, Black Friday and so on is just that – peculiar.
So, what is this so-called Blue Monday all about? Well basically it was a marketing strategy started by Sky Travel in 2005 to get us all to buy summer holidays to beat the so-called “January Blues”- A bit of so-called “retail therapy” to cheer ourselves up. Sounds like a fairly easy fix, but in fact the premise on which Blue Monday is based is a made up, non-scientific formula which takes into account days since Christmas, weather, motivation levels and debt. It seems strange and actually quite cruel to target people who are miserable because they are worried about money and sell them something else they likely can’t afford. As a marketing ploy though you can’t knock it. The concept of Blue Monday has become ingrained in our Western materialistic culture for the last 13 years and the media and multiple other businesses annually hang on its coat tails. A quick flick through a Google search will take you to all sorts of articles and adverts for suggestions about what you can do (which usually involves parting with your hard-earned money) to overcome something that doesn’t exist. We have been well and truly duped.
Some see “Blue Monday`” as a harmless bit of fun to cheer up “Dull January”, whilst others have been more critical about its potential to trivialise low mood and perpetuate the stigma that surrounds mental illness.
The mental health charity Mind has said of Blue Monday: “Here at Mind, we think it’s dangerously misleading. Those of us who live with depression know that those feelings aren’t dictated by the date. Implying that they are perpetuates the myth that depression is just ‘feeling a bit down’, something that doesn’t need to be taken seriously.” I am with them on this one.
The Samaritans have taken positive action and are aiming to transform ‘Blue Monday’ into ‘Brew Monday’. They will be offering tea and a chat at various events across the UK (What a great idea although those who work closely with me will know that I would never advocate reserving tea just for Mondays. Let’s continue keeping the kettle on standby 24/7 and be prepared to support and reach out to those around us).
The people I see in my practice couldn’t be farther away from the parody of low mood that ‘Blue Monday’ perpetuates. They are people who experience the intense suffering that severe mental illness brings. Ask anyone who has experienced true clinical depression what it is like and they will tell you about the seemingly never ending low energy, elusive sleep, inability to enjoy anything, the sense of hopelessness and often accompanying thoughts that life is no longer worth living. They will describe the difficulties they have concentrating on what have previously been straightforward tasks. They will explain to you that the sadness pervades their every day for weeks on end. They will tell you about the devastating impact it has on them and those around them.
These are not problems “fixed” by holidays in the sun or weekend breaks or any other kind of “retail therapy”. Depression is a serious but treatable mental illness which takes time to recover from.
Treatment is designed to look carefully at the patient’s brain, body and background. That is what we do as psychiatrists day in, day out. There is nothing in the world I enjoy more than seeing someone who has been really unwell, often with a deep, life-threatening depression make a full recovery and get back to living their life, and reconnecting with their community. On this so-called “Blue Monday” I am excited to get back to the job I love.
Dr Kate Lovett is a consultant psychiatrist and dean of The Royal College of Psychiatrists