My Thoughts On Blue Monday And Mental Illness

Did you know that there is such a thing as a specific day called "Blue Monday" and that it is known as the most depressing day of the year? Let's take a closer look at the impact of the words we choose to use to express how we are feeling on our understanding of mental illness...

I discovered after reading Emily Reynold's article on the Stylist Magazine website that today is "Blue Monday". I was surprised to find out that there is a specific Monday of the year, the third Monday in January to be precise, that has been named "Blue Monday" and described as the most depressing day of the year according to a supposed "scientific formula that determines the date year on year" as Emily talks about in her article. Emily's article explores “Why the concept of Blue Monday damages our understanding of mental health”. It is a very interesting read and I definitely recommend that you head over there after reading and subscribing to my blog.

I have always been under the impression that it is commonly accepted that Mondays and "the blues" go hand-in-hand. I have often found myself referring to popular hashtags on social media like #mondayblues to connect with an audience who might relate to feeling overwhelmed at the beginning of the working week.  My personal experience is that Mondays are actually the perfect opportunity to start anew. I am a big fan of new beginnings. Although this hasn't always been the case. I referred to "Monday Blues" far more when I was working in retail, mostly because I hated working in retail, and so I hated Monday mornings. I love them now that I don't have to face a full week ahead of me doing something that I don't want to do.

I thought I'd share some of my own thoughts about "Blue Monday". It's a shame that the colour blue is associated with feeling low, fed-up, or sad, and certainly more so that it is now also being linked out of context to depression and mental illness. I think that using this term in marketing isn't a sensitive move, and it definitely plays a role in undermining the experience of clinical depression, and impacting people's understanding of mental illness. I have recently had the opportunity of working on a piece of writing about colour theory, however, and you might be surprised to learn what blue actually stands for on the colour therapy wheel.

I had to do some writing recently as part of my application for a Junior Copywriter job at Paperchase. I know, exciting right? Alas, I was not offered the position in the end, but I did receive some encouraging feedback on the piece. The assignment was all about The Power of Colour Theory, which is the inspiration behind their fabulous new Colourama Collection of stationery and lifestyle products.  The "Power of Colour Theory" refers to the idea that different colours are sources of energy that can influence how you feel and behave. 

Surprisingly, blue represents creativity! Far from being a colour symbolising low mood and depression, blue is all about being grounded, feeling inspired, embracing new opportunities, and encouraging creative thinking and big ideas. Blue is also the colour of communication and intelligence. All of these qualities sound very far from the image and ideas we have come to associate with "feeling blue", don't you think?

I had to find out why or how we have come to associate blue with sadness, because it is everywhere, from messages in marketing to song lyrics. The only reason I have come across that makes any sense to me is that the colour blue has associations with rain, and that rain could be linked to sadness through the connotation of tears. For example, I can imagine sitting at a window whilst feeling sad, looking out at the rain, and feeling that the drops of water trickling down the window are symbolic of my own emotions. We've all been there, cue violins.

Of course, the effects of colour can be extremely subjective and vary greatly according to culture, environment, upbringing, and personal experiences. My own personal experience of the colour blue involves feelings of clarity, space, and calm. In the blog post I wrote for the Paperchase assignment, I described that looking up at the open space of a vast blue sky, or down into the deep blue sea can be surprisingly grounding and that this is the energy that the colour blue embodies. For me, the colour blue is crisp and therapeutic, and it far from describes how I feel during periods of depression. I would personally use a fussy or dark colour like grey or black because depression to me often feels like a void, a world empty of all colours.

Initially, the term "Blue Mondays" was used in a campaign by a travel company to flog cheap holidays at the beginning of the year. Emily talks about her concerns that "Blue Monday" is more recently being connected to trends about misery and mental illness in particular, and that the use of depression and mental health as commercial tools is totally inappropriate. I agree that the suggestion that there is a single Monday that is the most depressing day of the year may affect how people understand actual depression. 

Clinical depression and mental illness don't occur on one day or another due to a set of external events. Real depression is insidious and may have no perceivable cause other than the fact a person is unwell and suffering from a mental health condition that has nothing to do with the weather or the time of year. Depression is not conditional. It occurs in the wintertime, spring, summer, birthdays, Christmas, on wedding days, Mondays, Tuesdays, and at the weekends. 

I have every reason to be feeling low this week, last week I found out that I had not been offered a job I really wanted, and this week I am back to the drawing board. Yes, I may feel disheartened, but after considering the message conveyed in Emily's article I might be warier of using terms such as "depressing" or "depressed", unless, as is more likely in my own case, these events have actually triggered symptoms of depression because of my actual mental illness. There is a fine line.

It is important that we pay close attention to the language we use when it comes to describing how we feel. You never know who might be affected by what you say. There is a person in my life who uses the term "bipolar" and "manic" to describe anyone who seems to present imbalanced or hyperactive behaviour, and I can honestly say it infuriates me as a sufferer of cyclothymia, a type of bipolar disorder. A high level of activity is just that, a high level of activity, and it has nothing to do with mania or bipolar disorder. Feelings of low energy or sadness are just that, low energy and sadness, they are not necessarily depression. 

So be careful with the words you choose, you could end up pissing someone like me off... or worse, contributing to the misunderstanding and undermining in society of serious mental illnesses. Nobody wants to be responsible for something like that!


A quick update on the book - It is coming along nicely, I have made a good start and I am continuing to work on it slowly. If you would like to find out more about my book project you can read my last blog post. Don't forget to leave your thoughts about Blue Monday in the comments below, and subscribe to my blog to receive new post updates.

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I write about a variety of topics, including mental disorders (like bipolar, cyclothymia, depression and anxiety) but also everyday mental health challenges and self-care tips. Subscribe to my mailing list and never miss a post...