Is Blue Monday a thing?

Faculty of Arts counselling psychologist Suman Varghese talks about why January is a challenging month, especially for students

Donna McKinnon - 16 January 2017

Suman Varghese is a counselling psychologist situated in the Faculty of Arts. Although she is employed by UAlberta'sCounselling and Clinical Services, Suman specifically works with Arts students who are experiencing mental health challenges, which can be anything from depression to anxiety to relationship problems. As part of our 2017 Happiness Month campaign, we learned about Suman's professional side in this Work of Arts Blog profile, but we wanted to know a little bit more about what makes this psychologist tick, and whether or not Blue Monday is actually a thing.

Q: What drew you to psychology?

A: I first went into psychology because I thought it was interesting and it was a good balance between arts and science. Also, I had witnessed suffering around me and in my life and realized there are a lot of people hurting out there, and it would be nice to help in some way. I ended up doing a teaching degree, thinking I wanted to be a teacher, but I quickly came to the conclusion that it's not for me. I started volunteering at the distress line, just to see what it would be like to be in that role, and I really enjoyed it. I found it very meaningful and it suited my personality, and so I came back to the U of A and did my master's in counselling psychology.

Q: What are the challenges and rewards of the work you do?

A: It's difficult work in the sense that it can be pretty heavy - there's a lot of suffering. On the flip side, being able to help someone through that, and help them figure out what they need in those moments is super rewarding! It makes it a really satisfying job and profession. It is challenging, because students are facing a lot of pressure. The academic, the financial, the relationship - just the age developmentally; it's a hard time in life for a lot of people. Those are the challenges, but the good parts definitely outweigh that.

Q: Are students more stressed than ever?

A: I don't know the actual numbers, but even if I did, is it that things are getting worse or that more people are accessing services? I definitely think that there is more awareness. Our services are busier than they have ever been. But whether or not the stress is getting worse, I'm not sure.

Q: What are your thoughts about Blue Monday?

A: I don't know if there is any research that actually supports that, but if you just look at it from a common sense perspective, it makes sense that January is a difficult month. Christmas is done, so you've got that post-Christmas feeling - it's cold, it's dark, there's a whole semester to get through, so is it worse than February or November? I don't know, but I don't think it's a bad thing that people recognize that it could be a challenging time of year.

Q: How do you de-stress?

A: Photography has been a passion of mine for a few years. I really like to travel and take pictures of different scenes on the street, people going about their business. My parents are from India, so I'm actually going to make a trip there soon. It's my third time, but it's been about seven years. I also really like road trips, even if it's just out of town, or in the mountains. I'll find a concert that I want to see, and I'll do a road trip. I'm up to going anywhere!

Other than that, listening to music, going to see live music, spending time with friends and family is a big one. And sometimes just watching some Netflix and kicking back. I'm all for that!

One thing I also find de-stressing is that I walk to work and back. I live fairly close by, but I find the walk is nice to just think about the day and then when you get home, you can put it away.

Q: And turn on Netflix…

A: Yeah, absolutely!