Traditionally, “Blue Monday”, is the third Monday in January which happens to fall on the 16th January this year. The name was originally coined by the UK’s Sky Travel company. It’s when we tend to feel downcast as Christmas is now just a distant memory. We’ve quite possibly already fallen off the band wagon with our New Year’s resolutions. It’s cold, we’re broke and despising ourselves for our lack of willpower to lose weight/drink less/stop smoking/be the best versions of ourselves etc. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Monday_(date)
Does All This Sound More Than a Little Familiar?
Well, although Blue Monday may have originated in a PR person’s notebook. This day has actually come into its own over the years. It serves to highlight this bleak time of year and is a useful reminder that most of us, to varying degrees, may feel down at times – if not at this time of year, then perhaps at another.
This also gives us a good reason to talk about mental health publicly and perhaps to reach a wider audience with the message. We know that, in recent times, mental health has become less of a taboo subject. Remember when mental health was only mentioned in hushed tones in the workplace? However, there is still a long way to go. Plus, it’s one thing talking about an issue and paying lip service to it, but it’s quite another to deal with it head on if it’s directly impacting you or those around you.
Increasing numbers of people are seeking help from their GPs with GPs seeing 60+ patients in one day. An added pressure is that the number of GPs has also declined.
According to the national mental health charity, Mind, “one in every four people in the UK will suffer from a mental health problem of some kind every year“. This is a stark reminder of just how common mental health issues are. The same as with our physical health, mental health is just another part of the fabric of our everyday existence. Feeling “good” or “fine” may be our typical barometer of how we’re doing on a daily basis, but “anxious,” “stressed,” or “depressed” are just as likely to be up there too. Again, like physical health, our mental health needs to be nurtured. Although often ignored as it is less visible than mental health, it is in actual fact just as important.
Black and White Thinking
Ironically, there is a says-what-it-is-on-the-tin phrase for the reality of many people’s lives which GPs in the UK and the US often use: Sh*t Life Syndrome (SLS) or Cr*p Life Syndrome (CLS). In a Mirror article about SLS, Dr Phil Cumberlidge explains it thus by way of an example:
“Imagine being a single parent after finally getting away from your abusive alcoholic boyfriend. Your baby is unwell and frequently in hospital. You have no family support. No money. Your flat is surrounded by drug users and alcoholics. Or how about being middle aged, losing your job, your partner and your house within six months?“
…So when she comes to see you distressed, unhappy and not wanting to get out of bed you can hardly blame her. The easy answer would be: she’s depressed, give her some medication or counselling. Like that is going to change her environment or lack of support…You cannot cure everyone with a “pill.”
Richard Carlton-Crabtree, in an Independent article about Blue Monday, puts it succinctly when he says,
“Multiple, interrelated problems are blighting people’s lives simultaneously, and more and more of them are turning to their GPs and other services. But no one professional has hold of the whole thread, and it is difficult to understand where the thread even begins”.
The Crux of blue Monday
Blackpool is a case in point. Sarah O’Connor in “Left behind: can anyone save the towns the economy forgot?”, Financial Times (2017) explains that Blackpool exports healthy skilled people and imports the unskilled, the unemployed and the unwell. People overlooked by the modern economy end up in a place that has also been left behind, then the result is a quietly unfolding health crisis. Many working-age people live on state benefits, life expectancy is shorter than other places, many people are on antidepressants. Yes, there are clearly mental or physical health problems, but this is intrinsically tied up with economic, social and emotional problems.
So, this is the nub of Blue Monday and it tends to reach a head in mid January. GPs, mental health services, other voluntary sector providers, possibly the criminal justice system and addiction programmes, may all try to support people to navigate different aspects of SLS. However, there’s not really any one fixed roadmap. No expert controls the discussion, and it’s unclear where it begins or ends. Issues are interrelated and multilayered, with cause and effect blurring into each other.
To an extent, some of the impact of SLS can be mitigated through existing health and social care frameworks. In our hyper-connected world, some important tools are still missing with a lack of conventional IT systems and established means for transferring data. This is underpinned by unnecessarily risk-averse patient confidentiality and data protection policies which may lead to missed opportunities. Fortunately, professionals “on the ground” frequently connect the dots to keep service clients from falling through the cracks.
It would be wonderful if we could see more services co-locating. Imagine if psychological therapists worked alongside their physical health counterparts in hospitals, nursing homes, and other specialised facilities that care for patients with respiratory, cardiac, or musculoskeletal illnesses. Long-term health difficulties like these will affect people’s mental health. So encouraging positive thinking will help them manage their physical health. It’s a win-win. How about if diverse medical experts were to monitor each other’s clinical sessions and team meetings at early adopter sites to better coordinate their efforts for service customers? This should mean that doctors would spend less time trying to figure out what another medical professional does and unhappy service users won’t have to keep telling their story to different medical experts.
Digitally-enabled medicines could then complement these proactive, coordinated efforts. Digital solutions aren’t perfect, but when used intelligently, they can lower systemic stress and boost user convenience. For example, digital therapy can use “live chat” or video talking with a therapist to provide primary therapy online.
What Can You Do?
Beyond this, there are things that we, as fellow human beings, can do. Recognising and being understanding of people’s different situations is key. Then, we’d advocate showing ‘kindfulness’ (mindful kindness – and one of our Givey values). In addition, there’s a very practical step that you can do. Support those charity and community-based organisations that work tirelessly to provide services for people with SLS. These may be therapeutic, practical (e.g., offering tips for dealing with debt) or literally just a listening ear, such as a befriending service. These are all small ways that we can help ease the weight of SLS in someone’s life.
Giving on Blue Monday
Givey is all about helping these very same grassroots charities and community-led organisations, many providing services 365 days of the year, and not just on Blue Monday. We support them directly as a dedicated digital community funding platform (fee free) that raises donations for local communities and small charities exclusively in the UK.
You may also be interested in: