Blue Monday is a recent phenomenon, one that appears in the media and in turn now the general public consciousness.
As most people know, the third Monday of January is generally considered to be ‘the most depressing day of the year’, the day when most people will experience feelings of depression. This can be caused by a number of factors and on paper, the idea of ‘Blue Monday’ makes sense. You don’t have to be a member of the Boomtown Rats to not like Mondays, as days of the week go it is by far and away the least popular of the bunch. Add this already dour day to a depressing melting pot of going to work in the dark, leaving work in the dark, freezing temperatures, broken New Year resolutions and pay day still agonisingly far away meaning the tightening of belts (on an over indulged Christmas waistline) after the excess of the festive period, and it’s no surprise everyone is feeling down.
However, is this truly the case, or has Blue Monday become something that is bigger than the sum of its parts? Who has actually decided that this day is the most depressing day of the year? To get some scientific clarification – Dean Burnett, neuroscientist at The University of Cardiff – has described the conclusions drawn about Blue Monday to be ‘farcical’, and concocted with ‘nonsensical measurements’. In fact, the ‘scientists’ who first reported Blue Monday were found to have received payments from PR and Marketing companies related to holiday companies specialising in winter breaks. This has been widely reported in the mental health community, and yet the media are more than happy to run the same tired, Blue Monday stories when the day comes around, and with the rise of social media, it is constantly reported that Blue Monday and related words are expressed in much higher volumes than normal. Even if the media started reporting the truth, with user generated content coming from Twitter, Blue Monday has snowballed into something that will be a yearly constant.
Does one then become depressed by virtue of being made aware that today is the most depressing day of the year? What there seems to be here is a gross misunderstanding of the complex nature of mental health, and a refusal to engage with it properly. People do not become depressed just because it is a Monday and it is a bit cold. Depression is an ongoing condition in which the sufferer feels sad, apathetic, unmotivated, bleak, and sometimes suicidal. This can be caused by traumatic life events, or a multitude of serious factors. There is a feeling of hopelessness that doesn’t just happen on Blue Monday and goes with the arrival of Groovy Tuesday. It is not a switch that can be turned on and off, nor can someone shake it off. It is a serious condition which blights millions of people in the UK, and requires treatment, support and help. It is the media’s responsibility to normalise depression, and reduce the stigma surrounding it, not reduce it to a commercial commodity around which to base marketing campaigns.
So too reporting on ‘Blue Monday’ in the manner which they do trivialises mental health issues in general, and gives the media the chance to pay lip service to mental health, without properly engaging with it, and producing important mental health related content. Editors sign off on Blue Monday stories but refuse to report on the devastating cuts that local mental health services are facing both locally and nationally.
Nonetheless though, the media is still reporting on a mental health issue – albeit not in the right way. The next big question to ask then is this: is this a bad thing? Would we rather have no coverage at all? Am I being overly critical?
I am alluding to the same criticism that was recently used to decry Band Aid 30, re-released with altered lyrics to address the Ebola Crisis in West Africa. The Africa they depicted was the poverty stricken, desperate for Western aid and intervention, backwards continent. Notably Adele, and other prominent African musicians turned down Bob Geldof’s invite to be a part of the song for these reasons. The song was not helping Africa to progress, and be seen in a positive light. Fuse ODG, a Ghanaian musician, specifically criticised the lyric “There is no peace and joy in west Africa this Christmas”. According to him, he goes to Ghana yearly for the sole purpose of peace and joy, so singing such lyrics would be a blatant lie. Africa is still struggling to shake off the negative views imposed on it held by most of the world, and this song didn’t help that much either.
What it did help however – was the victims of Ebola – patients, families, orphans. The song raised £1,000,000 within the first 5 minutes of being released. Try telling a mother her child can’t receive the help she needs to survive because we thought a fundraising song didn’t portray her homeland in a positive light.
Let’s take this back to Blue Monday. Will people be more aware of mental health problems? Yes. Will people out there reach out to others on the basis of Blue Monday? Definitely. Might someone out there experiencing feelings of depression seek the help that they need? Yes. But will the new knowledge these people have of depression be misinformation? Most likely yes.
I do not think that given how it is currently interpreted and expressed, the good outweighs the bad, nor is enough good done to justify the bad that might come from it. There is a very good chance that someone suffering from the early symptoms of depression might just think ‘Well it is Blue Monday I suppose!’, and ignore what is going on in their life, and delay getting help. Similarly if someone reached out to someone, would the reaction of the person they reached out to be ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get through this Blue Monday together!’, when in fact the person in need is not looking for a Blue Monday buddy, but someone to really provide them with long term help, support and understanding. That may have been the one time the person plucked up the courage to ask for help – an incredibly brave thing to do – and see it go to waste.
Granted it is getting people thinking about depression, but spreading the message that depression is something that occurs and passes like the changing of the seasons is a very dangerous message.
So what do we need? Blue Monday is here and it is here to stay. Why not use this established trope in society to form a basis of Mental Health awareness. With Blue Monday, what we have is an opportunity to really affect how mental health is understood. Ask someone you know when Mental Health awareness week is. Did they know? (11-17 May if you are wondering). Now ask them when Blue Monday is. I’m sure they can tell you.
Blue Monday needs to be reclaimed by the mental health community to educate people about detecting depression, and how to help people. I may be wrong and the concept of Blue Monday has helped people to understand depression and people have gone on to educate themselves, and help others; this is obviously difficult to measure. Or I may be right and people’s experiences today will result in a deeper shade of Blue Monday next week, and the week after that, and the week after that, and how long till that then becomes a Black Monday?
Either way, Blue Monday is here to stay. It is up to us how we define it, and what it comes to stand for.