The third Monday in January is considered to be the most depressing day of the year and was labelled “Blue Monday” by psychologist Cliff Arnall in 2005. Contributing factors include the post-Christmas period, debt and poor weather conditions.

Blue Monday has received criticism from mental health associations, which state that there is no proven correlation between this day and increased mental health referrals.

For many, mental health concerns do not just arise in the bleak midwinter and can strike on any day of the year. Mental health charity Mind has set up the “#BlueAnyDay” hashtag as a reminder that it is OK to feel depressed on any day of the year, not just on Blue Monday. There are concerns that Blue Monday is trivialising mental health issues and is putting pressure on those suffering from mental illness to overcome the day.

However, Blue Monday has also been celebrated for raising awareness and some employers are using Blue Monday as a way of opening up a dialogue with their employees about mental health.

Mental health and absenteeism

The Labour Force Survey 2015/2016 reported that approximately 500,000 workers are suffering from work-related stress, depression and anxiety, and that on average 24 days are lost per worker. This amounts to an astonishing 12 million working days per year due to mental health issues and is estimated to cost the economy over £5 billion per annum.

In addition to absenteeism, mental health illness can also lead to other issues in the workplace e.g. poor productivity, human error, increase in accidents and high staff turnover. It follows that supporting the mental wellbeing of employees is good for business and assists employers in achieving peak performance.

Work-related stress

Excessive workload pressure and lack of managerial support are the most common stressors contributing to mental ill-health and can cause occupational ill-health, and even exacerbate existing mental health illness.

Employers should take time to consider how mental health issues are dealt with in the workplace and review the steps that they are taking to reduce work-related stress. There are several ways employers can assist their employees who suffer with mental health problems, including:

  1. Creating a culture that supports staff to be open about their mental health;
  2. Having meaningful conversations with employees about their mental health; and
  3. Managing an employees’ time off sick and their return to work.

Employers should also assess the risks to their employees in line with health and safety legislation. Employers must then take action to reduce and control the risks identified as causing or contributing to work-related stress.

The Health and Safety Executive has published free guidance for employers on how best to tackle work-related stress – ‘The Work-related Stress Management Standards Guide’ which includes an example Stress Policy, can be found here.


Employers should be mindful of any employees suffering from a mental health illness that could be considered to amount to a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 and should have regard to their duty to make reasonable adjustments for such employees. Where employers have concerns about whether an employee may be considered disabled, they should seek the advice of a general practitioner and/or occupational health specialist.

Other dates to look out for:

  • Time to Talk Day on 6 February 2018
  • Stress Awareness Month throughout April 2018
  • Mental Health Awareness Week on 16 – 22 May 2018