Supposedly, today is the most depressing day of the year. Also known as Blue Monday, the third Monday in January is, the saying goes, the toughest to get through. It coincides roughly with the time we’re most likely to abandon our overly ambitious New Year’s resolutions and succumb to unhealthy habits and familiar vices for comfort, whatever those may be. It probably doesn’t help that January — and winter, let’s be honest — is a tough old period for our mental health. The days are short, it’s dark and grey all the time, the overhang of Christmas excess has left us exhausted and skint and payday still (how!) feels forever away. When all of those contributing factors align, it can make for a miserable environment that can be devastating for our mental health.
Mental health charities have reported a spike of up to 29% in patient referrals for mental health issues in January compared to any other month of the year, leading some to declare the month “Blue January, not just Blue Monday”. Action Mental Health says that it’s this time of year more than any other that those struggling with their mental health should allocate time to talk. “At this time of year, we all need to talk more than ever,” the charity say. “It’s important for individuals to acknowledge the difficulties during this period and seek professional help with severe ‘January blues’ when needed.”
But how do we know when those ‘January blues’ become severe enough to seek professional help? And how can we take steps to avoid allowing our mental health to reach crisis levels in what’s officially the gloomiest month of the year?
Tom Madders is Director of Campaigns for Young Minds, the UK’s leading charity fighting for children and young people’s mental health. He told i-D that it’s important to remember Blue Monday is one day out of 365, and that mental health and self-care should be a priority for young people — and all people — all year round. “For a lot of people, January can be a particularly tough time,” Tom explains. “But Blue Monday is just one day, and it’s important to remember that mental health problems can affect people differently at any time of the year. Whenever you’re feeling down and are worried about your mental health, it’s important to talk to someone about how you’re feeling and remember you’re not alone.”
Tom isn’t the only one suggesting caution over reducing mental health awareness to one particular day of the year. “As a clinician, I think [Blue Monday] does a disservice to people who have clinical depression,” Dr Nihara Krause, a clinical psychologist and founder of mental health charity Stem 4, tells i-D. “There’s little research to validate the claim that today is the most depressing day of the year and it doesn’t make any sense why just one day would be the most representative of a mood disorder, really.”
In spite of this though, Blue Monday — and January in general — can be a great opportunity to take a look at the state of our mental health and choose to address it while the cultural conversation is focused on winter misery. “There are lots of things we can do to help our mental health in any season,” says Dr Nihara. “It can help to up your physical activity, eat healthily and link up with friends and family. But really looking after your emotions and expressing them in any way you find helpful is key too — for example talking, art, music; and making sure you rest and sleep.
“It’s also important to make sure you combat the loneliness that winter months can bring, since people may want to go out less, making sure you go out of your home to connect with nature rather than spending longer periods at home in order to not face the cold. It can be difficult, but developing a positive mindset about dark mornings and evenings can really help.”