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

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.

Most of us have made an association between "Mondays" and feeling "the blues". I hadn't considered that this seemingly harmless and relatable idea might actually be undermining the experience of real depression or affecting how people understand and view mental illness. After coming across an article by Emily Reynolds on The Stylist Magazine website that explores this idea, I thought I had better think a little bit deeper on the topic.

Did you know that 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, in her article, 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 feel like the word "depression" is tossed about so flippantly these days to describe dips in mood that are perfectly normal, and this can be very frustrating for people who really suffer from serious mental illness. It is even worse to see that mental illness is being used as a marketing tool for anything other than raising awareness about mental illness itself.

My current personal experience of Mondays is actually a positive one. I like to see it as the perfect opportunity to start afresh. I am a big fan of new beginnings. When I was in my 20s, however, I considered myself to be a slave to retail work, and for this reason I hated Monday mornings with a passion. They symbolised the full working week ahead and me stuck doing a job that I didn't find fulfilling. 

The stress of working in retail did affect my disorder, triggering a lot of depression and mood swings, although I was unaware that I had a disorder at the time. "The Monday blues" was a very real experience for me, but referring to the idea of "Monday blues" was often an attempt on my part to put an explanation to how I was feeling that made it seem normal to be feeling low at the beginning of the week. Is mental illness normal though? Is it something you can just brush off because it's a Monday, and everyone gets a bit of the "Monday blues"? I think not.

It is important that we pay closer attention to the language we use when it comes to describing how we feel. I know someone who uses the words "bipolar" and "manic" to describe anyone who seems to present excitable behaviour or who is constantly on-the-go, and I can honestly say it infuriates me as a sufferer of cyclothymia, which you may know as you are reading this blog, is 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. Some people just don't get how offensive it is to a sufferer of mental illness when the description of their mental illness is thrown around like it means nothing. 

I think it is 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...

Blue represents creativity! Far from being a colour that symbolises 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".

I was curious then as to 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. 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. When you look up at the open space of a vast blue sky, or down into the deep blue sea it can be surprisingly grounding, and I feel 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 fuzzy or dark colour like grey or black because depression to me often feels like a void, a world empty of all colours. 

What colours do you associate with depression? Let me know in the comments, and don't forget to share your thoughts on other people's misuse of language when it comes to mental illness.

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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...