Get talking to beat ‘Blue Monday’ blues

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Today - ‘Blue Monday’ - is the most depressing day of the year, experts claim. But why? The Star’s reporter Rachael Clegg found out more about joyless January 21, whether it’s really true and, if it is, what you can do to cheer yourself up.

TODAY is supposed to be the most depressing day of the year.

The weather is bone-chillingly cold. The popping champagne corks of Christmas and New Year feel an age ago. And it seems like an eternity until your dwindling finances are boosted by that next pay cheque.

Every year, the third Monday of January sees the nation’s wellbeing sink to an all-year low, academics claim.

Psychologists claim a direct link between feeling down, the distant memory of party season, money troubles and gloomy and dark cold days, all combining to make this the glummest day of the year.

And there could be some truth in that.

Seasonal affective disorder is well known to strike when the days are shorter, and workers stuck in sunless offices leave home in the morning, and arrive back at night, in dismal darkness on both occasions.

But according to Sheffield psychiatrist Dr Tim Kendall, director of the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, what’s really important about Blue Monday is the fact it brings mental health into focus.

“It’s important to talk about depression, it is a part of life, and there is never going to be a situation where people don’t get depressed,” he said.

“So it’s important to recognise depression.

“Depression shouldn’t be treated any differently to having a broken leg, and we’ll never live in a society where people don’t have broken legs.”

Tim believes openness and acceptance of mental illness is key to its treatment.

“I went to South Korea to take part in a review of mental health over there,” he said.

“The suicide rates in South Korea are very high and there is a stigma attached to depression. If people say they are depressed they are likely to get sacked.

“There are 32 to 33 people out of every 100,000 in South Korea committing suicide, whereas in the UK it’s six-and-a-half per 100,000. If people don’t talk about depression, it can be detrimental.”

But the suicide rate in the UK has risen since 2008, when the credit crunch first bit. And according to Tim this correlation is significant, as financial worries - particularly debt - are a key factor in depression.

“Debt is a very common factor in depression,” he said. “People who get into debt report feeling very guilty, and many people feel guilty about things they really shouldn’t when they become depressed.”

Debt advisor Ralph Keen, who works for Sheffield organisation Christians Against Poverty, agrees.

“The problems we see are really the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “We see people struggling to pay their increasing energy bills and making decisions between eating and heating.

“Given how cold it is at the moment, this is not a good prospect.”

As for Blue Monday, Ralph says: “It is simplistic to think people have done too much shopping at Christmas and then call organisations like ours for help in January. Many of the situations I see are very serious. People fear losing their homes and creditors are constantly on the phone causing enormous stress – that doesn’t happen overnight.”

But there are strategies and organisations to help - not just with debt but also with those feelings of gloominess which could lead to depression.

“The first port of call for help is people helping themselves,” said Tim, “and there’s lots people can do.

“Exercise is a really good way to help with depression, and research shows three one-hour sessions of vigorous exercise each week is beneficial.

“The exercise works in a ‘dose’ effect so it’s important people get a certain amount of sessions in.

“Over 10 weeks it will have as good a result as anti-depressants.”

And if that sounds hard work, Tim also stresses the importance of a healthy social life.

“Stay in touch with friends - don’t hide yourself away,” said Tim. “It’s also important not to drink too much when you are feeling depressed, and to get a reasonable amount of sleep.”

And as for Blue Monday, Tim added: “If Blue Monday helps people to talk about depression then it’s great.”