01/10/2014 04:17 pm ET Updated Mar 12, 2014

January Got You Down? What's Up With Blue Monday?

There is some debate about when Blue Monday is.

That's not surprising, since Blue Monday is supposed to be "the most depressing day of the year," and there has to be plenty of competition for that. Some say it was January 6, the day when many folks returned to work after the holiday break, weighed down by already-broken resolutions, holiday debts and cold and dark weather.

Of course there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support the idea that there is a "most depressing day of the year" no matter when it is. One person's best day is someone else's worst. And while it's understandable that returning to work after a break, whether at home or on a Caribbean island, may be hard, there is no reason to assume that getting back in the traces is all doom and gloom. Some people, for instances, find the holidays painful and are relieved when they're over.

As a professional who treats people with real depression, I'm a little sensitive about how people use the word "depressing." So while I find the concept of "the most depressing day of the year" ridiculous, I also take depression and seasonal affective disorder very seriously. Depression is a very real psychiatric disorder with clear symptoms that persist over a period of weeks and months and have a significant impact on functioning. Seasonal affective disorder is a specific subtype of depression that occurs in the winter months.

Real seasonal affective disorder is very different from feeling a little blue when it gets dark at 4:30 p.m. and feeling like you want to stay in your PJs by the fire. People who are really depressed feel chronically sad and irritable, they experience sleep and appetite disturbances, and may experience guilt and poor concentration. A disturbing number even contemplate suicide or have suicidal thoughts.

These are disorders that are very treatable with psychotherapy and oftentimes, medication. Depression and other mood disorders should be diagnosed and treated by a licensed mental-health professional.

As for Blue Monday -- everybody does get blue from time to time, and it has been shown that helping others is a good way to make yourself feel better. A gentle reminder to ourselves to lighten someone else's spirits by making them smile, showing that you care, or sharing a laugh is a lovely way to combat those emotional lows.