Blue Monday – typically the third Monday of the year (15th January this year) – was coined by a psychologist back in 2004 – as the ‘most depressing day of the year’ where a combination of post-holiday blues, failed new year’s resolutions, mounting financial pressure, and cold weather, all compound.
Not just one day a year
In fact, the entire winter period is a struggle for many and can trigger a deterioration in mental health. There is a fine line between seasonal anxiety and stress, and the emergence of a mental health condition. Some individuals will instinctively put self-help mechanisms in place to help them through this period but others may find it hard to cope and need professional support.
With this in mind, nurse-led health and wellbeing service RedArc is bracing itself for a busy Q1 as analysis of 2023 referral data highlights that there were 42% more new mental health cases when compared to the average for the rest of the year.
Anxiety, stress and panic disorders were the conditions needing the most support, followed by general mental health issues, and then depression and mood disorders.
Aside from absence and personal suffering, mental health issues contribute to lack of engagement and communication, as well as poor focus, decision making and time management, to name but a few.
What employers can do
According to GRiD the industry body for the group risk sector, Blue Monday is an opportunity for employers to demonstrate their understanding and to be proactive in supporting staff mental wellbeing.
RedArc also highlights that particular groups may need extra support at this time, including those with additional needs (i.e. people with physical health issues, the neurodiverse) and the vulnerable. Those who support others with mental health conditions are also sometimes more susceptible to mental health deterioration at this time of year too.
Christine Husbands, RedArc’s Commercial Director explains:
“Both the support itself and the communication of that support need to be ramped up during January and beyond. Whilst most people who feel low will improve without external help, it is impossible to single out those who will develop longer term anxiety or depression, so offering comprehensive support to everyone possible is a must.”
Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD, said:
“Many employers begin the new year very much focussed on their renewed ambitions for the business itself. However, it’s important to understand that employees may have also used the festive period to reassess their own lives and may return to work with additional plans and burdens.
“Blue Monday is a good reminder that employers need to be aware of the mental wellbeing of staff, but it’s important to remember that mental health support should be continual and not just for Blue Monday.”
Because mental health issues vary as much as physical conditions, and the acuteness of an illness will differ from employee to employee, it’s important to offer various types of support to meet the needs of those with mild anxiety through to more severe depression and psychosis. Support should comprise access to therapy, treatment and counselling with fast-track access to professional mental health support for those who require it.
Debra Clark, head of wellbeing at Towergate Health & Protection, agrees saying:
“Rather than viewing Blue Monday as a time to curl up and avoid the world, employers can take the chance to promote mental health awareness, to offer support and to make sure that they have the right provision in place.”
Beyond mental health
Towergate Health & Protection point out that there are many types of support that can be implemented with Blue Monday in mind. For instance, addressing financial concerns of employees can help to address mental health issues too. This does not have to come down to offering higher salaries. Access to financial education can be very beneficial and there are many options for discounts and vouchers from retailers.
Setting up group risk benefits for life assurance, critical illness, and income protection, can help to put employees’ minds at rest about an uncertain future too.
Statistics point to higher numbers of people filing for divorce in January. This is also a multi-faceted issue, where employees could benefit from support in terms of legal advice but also with mental health issues, childcare, finances, social anxiety, and much more.
How should support be communicated?
With such mixed issues coming to the fore throughout the month of January, it is important to make sure that the wellbeing support offered is wide-reaching but also that it is widely communicated, and ongoing.
Debra Clark explains: “Typically people only take notice of the things that directly affect them. If they are not suffering from mental health issues at the time, they will likely ignore any messages regarding mental health support. This is why it is vital that a wellbeing programme has all elements regularly communicated, so that support is front of mind at the time that it is needed.”
A mix of communication methods is often the most successful option in reaching the widest number of employees. Employers can consider emails, apps, portals, workshops, webinars, team meetings, caser studies, and more.
There is lots of support available to anyone struggling. A few organisations that can help include:
Mind (a mental health charity) – www.mind.org.uk
The Samaritans (a charity to support anyone in distress) – www.samaritans.org
StepChange (a debt advice charity) – www.stepchange.org
Citizens Advice Bureau (for legal and financial support) https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/
Relate (relationship support and counselling) – www.relate.org.uk