Blue Monday opens dialogue about mental health, expert says

The third Monday of every January has long been crowned the saddest day of the year, but while the science behind the unflattering title has been scoffed at by experts, some say the day has unintended value.

“Blue Monday” was coined in 2005 by Cliff Arnall, a former lecturer at Cardiff University, for a now-defunct U.K-based travel agency as a tactic to sell winter vacations. It has since been adopted as a promotional platform by various companies, for example Cineplex and Sunwing.

As his proof, Arnall devised a not-so-scientific formula to back up his claim referencing January’s bone-chilling temperatures, the reality checks of post-holiday credit card statements, motivation levels and the ever-persistent battle to stick with New Year resolutions.

But while a 2017 publication by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health says “there is no scientific basis for why the third Monday in January has been deemed Blue Monday,” at least one expert says it might nevertheless have its benefits.

“Anything that can help us to open the dialogue and conversation about mental health can be a positive thing,” CAMH clinical psychologist Dr. Katy Kamkar said. 

“The more we open a dialogue, the less fear there is, more people are talking and then in-turn, seeking help.” 

Some workplaces and organizations have seized the opportunity to spotlight mental health awareness. 

Katy Kamkar

With a growing number of people using social media to discuss social issues, clinical psychologist Katy Kamkar says days like ‘Blue Monday’ can prompt discussion around mental health and normalize the conversation. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

“They are trying to take advantage of an event that has awareness, is newsworthy, is being talked about and then borrow that equity to whatever marketing initiative they are undertaking so they’re essentially piggy-backing on something else that is already been mentioned, considered, talked about in popular culture,” David Lewis, a marketing professor at Ryerson University explained. 

​The truth behind the myth

Kamkar says while the formula itself may be pseudo-science, the variables it references might very well be triggers for people with serious illnesses like clinical depression and seasonal affective disorder. 

“People can very much identify with those factors,” she told CBC Toronto. “If you are suffering from depression…they can definitely increase the distress or the level of functioning.”

She warns that both depression and seasonal affective disorder are far more than just a one-day affair — not easily solved by a vacation to warmer destinations or a cheap movie ticket.

“This is not a one-day thing,” she said. “It’s not a typical mood fluctuation,” she said.

In a CAMH survival guide, Kamkar offers the following tips for people who find their mental health illnesses exacerbated during this time:

  • Take an inventory of your lifestyle habits to see what simple but effective changes you can make to improve your mental health.
  • Get proper sleep
  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Be physically active
  • Set up a budget to manage your spending habits

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CBC | Health News