January’s third Monday, “Blue Monday”, is thought to be the most depressing day of the year. Spoiler: it isn’t. Let’s look after our mental health against commercial influences.

Blue Monday is a myth

Blue Monday is a PR stunt that was originally dreamed up to sell holidays.

It is a myth, a false calculation based on things like the gloomy weather, post-Christmas debt, disappointment from not keeping New Year’s resolutions, dissatisfaction about going back to work and general doom and gloom. Since then, it has become a rather tedious yearly PR event, often designed to promote things that are vaguely linked to improving our well-being, more often than not with a complete lack of evidence. No actual scientific studies have ever backed up any claims about Blue Monday.

Mental health ‘good and bad’ days are individual to each of us

It is pointless to try and identify what the most depressing day of the year is because it would be different for each one of us. As different as each person’s circumstances are. And it is also important to distinguish between temporarily feeling down, which we all relate to from time to time, and experiencing depression or a mental health problem that can be quite disabling for our day-to-day lives.

This year, perhaps more than any other year in recent memory, the need and importance for us all to look after our mental health and support each other at this time, is clear and urgent. The coronavirus pandemic has eroded many of the things that normally protect our mental health – from social connectedness to financial security and hope for the future.

There can be seasonal variations in our mental health

However, despite the fact that Blue Monday isn’t real, there can be seasonal variations in our mental health. Some people might be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder with symptoms of depression that come and go in a seasonal pattern (and are usually more intense in the months with lower daylight). Bodily changes in the winter can affect our hormones and impact our sleeping and eating habits, as well as our mood.

Things that are known to be good for our mental health, such as exercising and spending time in green and blue spaces, are harder to do when the days are short and nights are long. December is also a time when some of us may tend to eat and drink too much, run up debts, and then sometimes feel bad about these afterwards.

We should be thinking about our mental health every day of the year

Perhaps the true meaning of Blue Monday is that we all have mental health and that there are steps that we can take on every day of the year to try and protect it. We should not just be thinking about our mental health on 18th January this year, but on every day of the year. Depression and other mental health problems last for more than a day. And mental health problems can affect people in different ways on any day of the year.

Poor mental health is the greatest public health challenge facing our generation. Trivialising symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental health problems, under the influence of commercial industries that wish to turn mental health into an on-trend topic for profit, is unacceptable. Our approach should be evidence-based, involve whole communities and prioritise prevention.

Things we can do to protect our mental health

As a starting point, we recommend some basic practical things we all can do to protect our mental health:

• We could try and talk about our feelings to someone we know
• We could try and keep active, eat well and drink sensibly, and ask for help if we are struggling

At a time of the pandemic trying to anticipate distress, staying connected and engaging in a new rhythm of life is important. Here are our COVID-19 and mental health tips.
We may find that we are not alone; people are there to help and so many are facing similar challenges.

Mental health matters on every day of the year.

By Dr Antonis Kousoulis, as published on mentalhealth.org on 15th January 2024

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