The third Monday of every January has notoriously been labelled Blue Monday- the most depressing day of the year.
The idea was started as a marketing gimmick by a travel agency.
Yes, the weather may be cold and there may not be a lot of sunlight. You may also be broke after the holidays but mental health experts say Blue Monday oversimplifies a real problem.
Mara Grunau with the Centre for Suicide Prevention says contrary to popular belief, suicide rates do not go up this time of year.
“In Alberta, our suicide rate is overall consistent throughout the year. It doesn’t change much from month to month,” Grunau said. “The rate in Alberta is high. More Albertans die by suicide every year than in fatal car collisions but it doesn’t peak at any particular time.”
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, (CMHA) there were 531 suicide deaths in Alberta in 2014. In 2015, there were 632 and between January and June of 2016, there were 189 suicides across the province.
“Depression is an illness that can affect you year round,” Grunau said. “You may have the winter blahs, but that’s not depression and we don’t want to marginalize people with mental illness further. They are already feeling stigmatized.”
Grunau adds you should not be afraid to bring up the subject and ask tough questions.
“Often, people with depression or other mental illness don’t want to talk about it. We want to create an environment where they feel comfortable talking about it.”
Be open and be a good listener.
“You may start with something like, ‘I’m concerned about you… you’re not yourself. Sometimes, when people are really overwhelmed and sad, they consider suicide – are you considering suicide?’ If you can be direct and use the language, then they don’t have to. All they have to do is say, ‘Yes.'”
According to the CMHA, one in five Canadians are currently experiencing a mental health concern of some kind.
“It’s important to know that people who consider suicide, attempt suicide – don’t actually want to die,” Grunau said. “People are in deep psychological pain, they want the pain to go away – that’s why if you can reach out and help them, they’ll take it.”
There are several signs a loved one may be contemplating suicide but the most common, according to the Centre for Suicide Prevention, include changes in behaviour, loss of interest, giving away belongings and talking about being a burden.
Grunau said if symptoms persist for more than two weeks, “you need help.”
There are many factors that lead to suicide but Grunau points to the masculine nature of many jobs in Alberta as being one of them.
“Historically, in Alberta, our industries are hyper-masculine: ranching, farming, oil fields – where we see the workplace dominated by men working in isolated environments in really tough guy kinds of roles.”
In the first three months of 2016, there was an average of one suicide attempt every day in St. Albert. The downturn in the economy and job losses were blamed.
Three out of four suicide deaths in Alberta are men.
If you are in need of immediate counselling or support, please contact the 24-hour Distress Line at 780-482-HELP (4357).