Blue Monday may be a marketing stunt, but in recent years there has indeed been a spike in the number of Belgians seeking psychological help in January. This is according to figures from the online booking platform Doctena from the past three years. “During Christmas and New Year, we often get together with family. Issues we have been sitting with for some time can be amplified at such a time and make us take the step to professional help,” psychologist Nicole Di Rupo gives a possible explanation.
Nicole Di Rupo has her practice in Ixelles (Brussels) and has been using Doctena for several years for clients who want to book an appointment online. She noted a change in attitudes towards mental health care in recent years, especially since the corona pandemic.
“During, or maybe better because of the pandemic, mental health became more important. I notice that people are now more aware of the importance of mental health and also more open to seeking professional help,” she says.
Role of end-of-year celebrations?
“The end-of-year period can play a role in the peak in January,” Di Rupo believes. “We get together with family and friends more often and for a longer period. Typically on such occasions, certain thoughts or problems that we have been sitting with for some time come up extra. And that can make some people take the step to a psychologist or psychotherapist.”
However, Di Rupo does not want to speak of a connection with the winter period. “People need psychological help all year round, the season doesn’t change that.”
In 2023, a total of 120,300 appointments for psychological help were booked through Doctena in Belgium. This was an increase of over 14% compared to 2022 (105,400 appointments) and over 31% compared to 2021 (91,700 appointments). The number of appointments in January was 11,600 in 2023, 9,800 in 2022 and 8,500 in 2021, respectively.
Looking at the average number of consultations a person books per year for the same period, it almost doubled: from 6 consultations per person in 2021 to 11 in 2023.
Impact of policy measures?
More data is needed to fully interpret the growth of recent years. But in any case, the evolution runs in parallel with Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke’s initiatives to make mental health care more accessible, for instance by making first-line psychological care more reimbursable.
“Better reimbursement can indeed lower the threshold for seeking professional help,” Nicole Di Rupo believes. “But other factors may also play a role, such as the growing focus on mental health and the emergence of digital tools like Doctena to quickly and easily find psychological help nearby and book an appointment.”
“My hope for the future? That everyone who needs it will have access to quality, well-reimbursed psychological help,” the Ixelles-based psychologist concludes.
Blue Monday, (successful) marketing stunt
In 2005, British psychologist Cliff Arnall renamed the third Monday (or sometimes the Monday of the last full week) of January as Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. To do so, he had developed a formula that took into account the weather, failed good intentions, an empty piggy bank after the holidays, etc., among other factors.
It soon emerged that the formula was not grounded in scientific research, but rather in a marketing campaign by a travel agency that wanted to promote trips in January. But the fact that it is still being talked about almost 20 years later shows that the idea of Blue Monday is intriguing.