A specialist in suicide prevention with Horizon Health says too much is made of Blue Monday, which popular culture suggests is the most depressing day of the year.

By early January, references to Blue Monday were already popping up on social media, some as offers of support to people expecting to feel sad on the third Monday of January.

But the term has no scientific basis, said Gregory Zed, area manager of addictions and mental health for Horizon Health in Sussex.

'It has taken on a life of its own.' - Gregory Zed, Horizon Health mental health manager

In fact, the term Blue Monday originated with a travel agency trying to market winter vacations a few years back.

"It has taken on a life of its own," Zed said. 

Depression and suicide, however, can happen at any time of year and have nothing to do with the January blues, he said.

"There's a real danger in putting too much emphasis on Blue Monday because for vulnerable individuals there's almost an expectation that, 'Oh it's a terrible, gloomy … day and something's going to happen,'" Zed said. "And it gets a bit of traction."  

If Blue Monday provokes discussion, it should be about the seriousness of clinical depression, which he said is treatable, and the need for people to be able to talk about their mental health.

"Depression and suicide have no boundaries," Zed said. "If depression goes untreated, the outcome is death."

People should be conscious of their mental health year-round and seek help when needed, he said.

It's also important to know the cues for good mental health and to find constructive coping mechanisms for anyone who might be having a down day.

Greg Zed

Greg Zed, a manager of mental health and addictions for Horizon Health in Sussex, says people should seek help if they experience symptoms of depression. (Horizon Health Network)

"Life is full of challenges, life is full of stresses, life is full of some very interesting and unique tasks that we all deal with and cope with," he said.

"But reality is such that there are agencies, organizations and individuals that have found coping mechanisms."   

Seasonal affective disorder

Mark Henick, national director of strategic initiatives with the Canadian Mental Health Association, said 20 per cent of Canadians will experience symptoms of depression in any given year.

Meanwhile, about two to three per cent of Canadians experience seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons.

He said SAD, which can also happen in summer too, often occurs in winter because of isolation, debt, colder temperatures, the change in light, or the stress of the holidays.

'Embrace the winter. It's about going out and learning to dance in the storm.' - Nancy Cusack, registered counselling therapist

"A lot people experience these things," he said.

To avoid the blues, Nancy Cusack, a registered counselling therapist based in Saint John, said self-care is important.

This includes exercise, proper nutrition, sleep, drinking water, relaxation, being kind to yourself and, yes, the occasional vacation.

"Embrace the winter," she said. "It's about going out and learning to dance in the storm."

Although there's no scientific proof behind Blue Monday, Cusack said it gives people a chance to talk and bring awareness to mental illness.

"Any day where people talk about anything mental health-related to remove that stigma is a good thing," she said.