The idea that there is one particular day that is the most depressing of the year is a gimmick, writes Linda Gillham, it has been taken advantage of by the travel industry in order to compel us to book our holidays and dream of better times.

There was a lot of news in the HR press on ‘Blue Monday’ (17 January). The third Monday of the year is, apparently, when our mental health is meant to be at its lowest point.

Why would you wake up on the third Monday of January feeling worse than normal? For people who experience low mood and depression it is something of an insult. For them, mental health issues are a 365-days-a-year thing.

This, of course, is not to say that some of us are not affected by a certain gloominess in winter. We can feel down after the fun (or, in some cases, the ordeal) of Christmas. Our finances may be constrained. If you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly abbreviated to SAD), this time of year can be especially challenging.

In England, around one in eight men has a common mental health problem, and yet 40 percent of men won’t talk about their own mental health.

Ask…and ask again

When asking somebody how they’re doing, ask them twice. We have this ritual of asking ‘How are you doing?’ and the standard response being, ‘I’m fine’, but it’s important to go beyond the ritual – to meaningfully ask, ‘How are you?’ and take an interest in the answer.

A lot of men will say they’re alright when actually they’re not – because that’s what’s expected of them. So, either ask in a different way, or ask twice so it’s possible to start a conversation about how they really are and what can be done to help them feel better.


Give them recognition

Acknowledging that men have different needs to women when it comes to work is really important. Men need to feel that they’re recognised for what they’re doing, but also who they are.

There’s a lot of recognition in the workplace for meeting goals, because they’re measurable. But it perpetuates that feeling of ‘I’ve got to try harder’ and when they don’t hit their targets, they don’t get the recognition they’re used to, and therefore start to beat themselves up about work.

Workplaces must acknowledge staff for who they are – that they’re a pleasure to work with, a team player, reliable, a good listener, etc. – as well as for their achievements.

Set achievable goals

Two things that affect the mental health of people in the workplace are not feeling heard or seen. It’s important to address these head-on to help support employees’ mental health.

If people feel taken for granted or their targets are off the chart and they just can’t ever meet them, they never get a sense of satisfaction – it can lead to a sense of hopelessness . This means work just becomes a relentless process, especially if we’re working from home.

Setting shorter, more achievable goals and challenges that prompt recognition can help enormously. And these need to be decided collaboratively, so individuals feel heard by their line managers and wider team.


Focus on prevention

The drudge of spending a whole day on Zoom or Teams can take its toll. Equally, the blurring of lines between work life and home life, that feeling of always being ‘always on’ and never being able to switch off, can do much harm if it becomes a habit. So, it’s important to encourage new habits.

Rules like ‘no meetings on Zoom before 10 or after four’ and making lunch breaks obligatory can be very effective. Urge staff to get away from their desk during their lunch hour and have a change of scene. By encouraging good habits instead of firefighting, organisations can prevent mental health problems.

It’s important, also, to offer specialist access to support, for instance employee benefits and health apps that focus on preventing common men’s health problems from becoming a crisis, by connecting male employees with a library of resources designed specifically with men in mind, which they can access at a time and place that suits them.


Regular check-ins

When we’re working remotely, that casual conversation in the kitchen or by the coffee machine when you might say ‘Actually, I’m not feeling too great,’ is missing. The lack of opportunity to drop how we’re feeling into conversation means mental health issues are not being raised.

HR departments need to be more aware of their staff, because it’s so easy to disappear on Zoom. Arrange regular check-ins with team members and encourage staff to meet for coffee on Zoom, just for a chat. Apps, such as ‘Donut’ can be a useful tool for remote workforces, which pairs up two staff members at random for a chat.

Mental Health First Aiders or HR teams should create a time slot – a safe space – where people can just turn up to talk about whatever they want.

Specifically for men, listen to the language they are using. If, for example, they’re referring to being ‘burnt out’ and ‘really busy’, the message immediately sounds like, ‘I’ve been working really hard and being strong’. But what that might mean is: ‘I’m stressed, feel anxious and need some help’.


Encourage confidential chat

The disinhibiting effect of sending a chat message, rather than sitting face to face with somebody, makes it far easier to say ‘Actually, I don’t feel great’. This is where the right kind of support needs to come in, providing access to highly-qualified mental health experts that’s confidential, as well as access to virtual events, videos and audio specific to mental wellbeing. Research shows that men engage better with healthcare when they know it is discreet and confidential. Generally, if men can’t see who they’re looking at, those feelings of shame, of admitting weakness, of somehow having failed, aren’t such an issue.

Another good technique is walking and talking. It is much better to be side to side with somebody than it is face to face. It makes those sometimes-awkward conversations less daunting. So, as and when we return to working together in-person, consider scheduling the next check in as a walking catch up.


It’s often possible to see when someone’s anxious or stressed. But it’s very, very hard to see when somebody is suffering from low mood or depression, as the signs are covert. For men, mental health can be even more insidious, as many would prefer to suffer in silence than talk about it.

Work is cited as the biggest cause of pressure in men’s life, closely followed by finance and then health3. It’s for this reason that organisations need to take action to commit to their male employees’ mental, physical and financial wellbeing. Now is the time to learn how to spot the signs, and to implement the necessary changes to support male colleagues.



Linda Gillham PTSTA (C) is the Director of Healthy Minds Services, Peppy