By Nikki Jamieson
Despite popular belief, January is not the most depressing month of the year.
Being the month after Christmas, it tends to be viewed as the grey and blah Monday of months. Add in the myth of Blue Monday – the third Monday of January – as the most depressing day of the year, it is easy to hold onto that belief.
But Blue Monday is not an actual date.
“The myth is perpetuated I think because it resonates with so many of us,” said Mara Grunau, executive director for the Centre for Suicide Prevention. “The idea of it’s winter, we have low daylight hours, it’s bleak, it’s cold, we still have month of winter ahead of us – as Canadians, we know how long winter can be – the holidays are over, our credit card bills might be coming in. So this concept, of the third Monday in January being blue, really hits home for us.”
The date is based on pseudoscience, a date generated by Cliff Arnall, a former Cardiff University lecturer, for an airline who wanted to encourage people to take more January vacations in 2005, with an equation that supposedly took into account factors like mood and time since failed New Year’s Resolutions. Since then, it has been said that this is the time of year when most people commit suicide.
That, however, is not the case.
“First of all, there’s zero evidence to support this,” says Grunau. “Absolutely no statistics or data to support it. The other thing that’s important to note is feeling blue or having the blahs, is an old part of life; we all go through that. And it’s easier to go through that in the winter when we’re cold and hunkered down inside. But that’s not depression, and we don’t want to trivialize what depression is. Depression is a disorder that can really be de-habilitating for many people, and we don’t want to stigmatize that more.”
The idea that you can calculate a date like this is preposterous. Suicide or depression rates do not change throughout the year; there is no time of year when people feel more depressed and/or feel more likely to kill themselves.
While in January more people tend to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, it has no link to the date. People who have SAD experience symptoms throughout 40 per cent of the year, and while SAD belongs to the same family that depression is in, they are not the same thing.
“You might feel similarly, you might feel as though there’s this giant cloud over your head,” said Grunau. “The thing with depression is that it manifests itself differently in different people. So some people who are depressed look depressed; they fit the stereotype of what we hold a depressed person to look like. Other people who are depressed don’t look like that at all.”
Since depression affects people differently, it can be hard to tell if someone has it. While some may show physical signs, others might simply feel it internally.
Depression is more then feeling the blues or being down occasionally. While it tends to present itself differently in different people, for the most part depression is like being in a fog that you can’t lift or get out of.
“Depression isn’t cured by a new pair of shoes or a sunny holiday. Things can be really well in a person’s life, things can be great all around them, but they can still be depressed. Depression is like a thick cloud hanging over your head, and you can’t shut it no matter what. You need help, you need support to be able to lift the cloud.”
Blaming a day of the year for why you’re depressed belittles depression, because it is so much more then just feeling down. There are tools that can help you figure out if you do have depression. For example, the Calgary Counselling Centre offers a depression-screening tool – an online confidential test that can give you a better picture of your depression index.
“If you are showing signs of depression; be brave and ask for help,” said Grunau. “If you are worried about a friend or family member, try to connect them to help.”
Depression affects every aspect of a person’s life, and it doesn’t just go away after a day. For those with depression, they do not feel as if things will ever get better. Because it seems like thing will not ever get better, this leads to some sufferers to contemplate suicide.
“If you are concerned that a friend or family member is considering suicide, if you think their depression has gotten them to a point of crisis, be brave, be bold, ask them directly,” said Grunau. “It’s really difficult to do but it’s so important. If a person is considering suicide, they will say, ‘Yeah’. And then you don’t need to panic, you don’t need to solve their problem, you just need to put them in touch with the crisis line.”
There is no one way to determine if someone is considering suicide or has decided to commit suicide. But one common sign is an abrupt shift in behaviour. For instance, someone who is normally outgoing becomes withdrawn, someone who is active on social media suddenly stops posting, or, perhaps worst of all, someone who is sullen becomes very happy.
“We think, ‘Oh, they’re getting better.’ Actually, it might be the opposite, they may have come to terms with their decision to kill themselves. And sometimes what we hear is that they look like they’re getting better, and then they die by suicide and it catches everyone off guard.”
Another sign is a person making statements saying that the world would be better off without them. These are invitations to talk about it.
“People who consider suicide don’t really want to die; they want the pain of living to end. If we can reach out a helping hand, we can give them some hope or something to hang on to, to help get them to the next stage.”
Those who are considering suicide, or suspect a friend, family member, or someone they know is contemplating, are urged to call the Distress and Suicide Prevention Line, at 1-888-787-2880, which will connect you to the Canadian Mental Health Association in Lethbridge.