Orcadian Column 18/01/18

Apparently Monday this week has been judged the most depressing day of the year.  There is no scientific basis for this, nor even any evidence that there are more referrals to mental health services on the third Monday in January.

That hasn’t stopped it being dubbed Blue Monday, however, a concept devised a decade ago by an academic tasked by the travel industry to come up with an explanation for the January blues, presumably in the hope of selling more holidays in the sun.  If so, from personal experience it’s a gimmick that works.

At one level, it is easy to understand how the perception has been created.  After the highs of the build up to Christmas and Hogmanay, the dark, cold days of January can have a sobering effect in bringing people down with a bump.  Food and drink are not the only things taken to excess, and financial difficulties can suddenly loom large.  Meanwhile, as family members depart and friends return to their normal routine, a sense of loneliness or even isolation can settle in.

All of this makes sense, though designating a single day as the most depressing is problematic.  Those who may already suffer from anxiety or depression can experience a growing unease in the run up to the day itself while it would be wrong to think that mental ill health is anything other than an issue all year round. 

Notwithstanding those concerns, I still believe the benefits of Blue Monday outweigh any downsides. Providing another opportunity to focus attention on the importance of good mental health; helping tackle the stigma by getting people talking openly about mental ill health, something that effects one in three of the population at some point in their life; and raising awareness about the support that is available and that it’s ok to not be ok.  All these benefits should help ease any misgivings people might have about Blue Monday.

To mark the occasion, I took a break from discussions about how a local abattoir facility in Orkney might be salvaged, to join members of the local Samaritans group for Brew Monday.  Over a cup of coffee in Glue’s Garden Centre we discussed the work of the Samaritans, which is as varied as it is vital.  While some of those who contact the service, which is free and confidential, just want someone to talk to, the Samaritans literally can on occasion make the difference between life or death. 

Blue Monday has also been used by other groups to raise the profile of what they do.  Help for Heroes, for example, works closely with those with a forces background and their families. It has launched a campaign, ‘you’re not alone’, responding to evidence showing that mental health issues can be particularly prevalent amongst those the organisation supports.

Both Samaritans and Help for Heroes know only too well, however, that mental health cannot be something we focus on for a day or a week or a fortnight.  It needs year round attention.  It also needs to be properly resourced, and put on equal footing with the way in which we treat physical ill health.  After all, the two are inextricably linked and there can be no good health without good mental health.

In Orkney, I am delighted that a local strategy is now being developed.  It has been a long time coming, but now has momentum behind it. I was fortunate to be invited to join a wide range of local mental health practitioners, service providers and users for a day-long session at the Picky before Christmas to discuss what the strategy should contain.

It must be tailored to Orkney’s specific needs, recognising where we have strengths but also where the weaknesses in services exist.  Some great ideas emerged and the commitment from all involved was extremely encouraging. It is important, though, that 2018 sees real progress made in developing and implementing this strategy.  That is a new year resolution well worth signing up to collectively and keeping. 

Meantime, I hope 2018 brings you happiness and good health, in all its forms.

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