Sunday, 17 January 2016

Does 'Blue Monday' build stereotypes rather than support?

Another day with an ascribed title draws closer – January 18th or ‘Blue Monday’ in the UK. It’s typically a name given to the third Monday in every January and apparently ‘the most depressing day of the year’. Whatever this means. Yes, it is the allocation of a ‘Blue Monday’ at all and the language used to refer to it which I am critical of. Many people may have good intentions when referring to it – encouraging others to recognise negative emotions and face them. But the format seems bad; as it often involves the commodification of anxieties, generalisation regarding people’s insecurities (casually referring to things as ‘stress’, ‘depression’ etc.)  and even a marketing opportunity by retailers. It leads to people lumping things like ‘depression’  abd ‘feeling fdown’ together; a big inaccuracy which leads to stereotypes.  Those facing ‘Blue Monday’ are so often recommended to buy this or that, read this, watch that – when what is crucially needed is conversation, not consumption.

It is this kind of culture which is consuming us

‘Blue Monday’ can bring some attention to low mood and issues such as depression, but in a way I believe is in the majority unhelpful. Firstly, it appears to make the frustratingly old mistake of conflating ‘depression’ (as calling it the ‘most depressing’ day) and terms to describe short-term unhappiness like ‘blues’. I also wonder how anyone arrived at this conclusion. After all, depression is a mental condition which is typically very difficult to quantify – it is certainly not a case of the sufferer being able to rank some days as more affecting than others. Depression is as diverse and deep as the wide array of minds out there, and it doesn’t correspond well to one set feeling either. In many cases, depression is an absence of feeling, a sensation of ‘emptiness’ experienced by the sufferer. It certainly isn’t the open expression grief and tears we typically associate with feeling ‘blue’. Many people affected by depression allude to the colourlessness, the blandness of what they are faced with.

In this light, ‘Blue Monday’ seems more and more of a boxed-up marketing ploy, under the guise of positivity, when actually entrenching unhealthy views. Carried by the modern media, the most commonly-recommended strategy in  relation to it seems to be ‘retail’ – and in the past it’s been used to endorse the sale of products including clothes,  food , alcohol… even holidays. The links to big business are unfortunately clear here, as the concept was actually first publically developed by Sky Travel holiday company, which in 2005 emphasized that it had calculated ‘Blue Monday’ using an equation. As you can imagine this became an ideal PR opportunity for package holidays.

Not as benevolent as it seems 

Therefore, bringing attention just to ‘Blue Monday’ in itself is important – as it might not be as benevolent as it seems. The attitudes it endorses can be unhelpful – negative stereotypes about depression, retail rather than conversation, commodification rather than consideration.  Ultimately, it is a pseudo-science, as the task of evaluating ‘the most depressing day of the year’ is not possible. Each person’s experience of negative emotion is different, and for those who suffer from mental conditions such as depression – it isn’t just a case of some days being worse than others. Depression and other conditions do not fit to equations or occasions. They are often unpredictable, difficult: they can consume people’s livelihoods when adequate action isn’t taken.

So to cover up with depression with further consumption is clearly unhelpful. Depression, low mood, negative emotions – they can be terrible any day of the year – and it is this which needs to be talked about consistently. For anyone affected, Blue Monday is just another day; but the thing to remember is that there is no set date needed to talk about it. Conversation can occur when you choose, and that’s a liberating thing – whether you tell a friend, open up to family member, get involved with a brilliant online resource like or even pick up a book on the subject. Some mental health charities are attempting to use ‘Blue Monday’ in a positive way and put forward campaigns to increase awareness of mental illness, but what it is important to recognise is that the majority of these charities are drawing important attention to this issue all-the-year round.  It is this awareness which is needed across the board.

Designating certain ‘days’ – an unhelpful process?

Blown-up days like ‘Blue Monday’ endanger trivialising conditions such as ‘depression’  and ‘stress’ too as they become words thrown around relating to temporary emotions.  The cold weather can be inconvenient, but it is certainly not ‘depressing’. You may be flustered over something at work, but it isn’t necessarily ‘stress’. Ultimately, the way to deal with assigning definitions and describing sensations is to TALK about them. Under-representing our emotions and then designating certain ‘days’ to accommodate them is an unhelpful process – keeping things well-discussed and out in the open helps to avoid accumulations of negativity. If things go under-addressed, no wonder they feel like a catastrophe when they come to the fore.  January is a tough month for many – with the returning routines of work and study, the anti-climax of Christmas, dark nights and the like. There will be new cases of depression, just as there is every month. What matters is that people feel in a position to talk about their emotional situation, whether it’s positive or negative.

Of course we want banish Blue Monday, not by batting away the related issues, but by interacting with them. If you are struggling with your emotions any day of year – it is okay – many people do. You may question why, see no reason, feel anger, sadness, upset, or even nothing at all– that is okay. You are entitled to the course of your emotions, as well as to be open about them.  Your emotional health is worth so much more than a marketing experiment on a certain day – it is something to be talked about in a way which suits you.

It’s time for a new Monday.