Blue Monday: Real thing or ridiculous myth?

Blue Monday: Real thing or ridiculous myth?

Today is Blue Monday – supposedly the most depressing day of the year. And just in case you forgot, the corporate-sponsored and PR-driven hashtags on social media are here to remind you that such a day exists.

Sure, it’s the middle of January, the weather isn’t playing ball and spring feels like a million years away.

Except for the fact that there is no credible scientific research to suggest Blue Monday is a real thing.

So how did it come about?

Is Blue Monday real? (Marjan_Apostolovic/Thinkstock)

The term was originally coined over a decade ago by Cliff Arnall, a psychologist and life coach. He claimed every third Monday of January is when social depression is at its worst. He even came up with a formula to explain it.

Arnall’s model {[W + (D-d)] x T^Q} ÷ [M x N_a]} is broken down into the following factors: W = weather, D = debt, d = monthly salary, M = low motivational levels, N_a = the feeling of a need to take action.

The formula was originated for a Sky Travel PR campaign in 2005. The Guardian reported in 2006 that the PR firm involved in the campaign offered money to a handful of psychologists to use their names in the press release.

Since then many scientists have argued it is hard, if not impossible to quantify these factors, let alone measure the levels of happiness or sadness using them. To mathematicians, the formula makes no sense.

Winter snow.
Weather is often touted as the main reason for Blue Monday (John Giles/PA)

As Philip Clarke, a lecturer in Psychology and PhD student at the University of Derby, explains: “Feelings of depression are something that are not date dependent.

“Terming Blue Monday as the most depressing day of the year is very misleading and suggests feeling a little down and depression are the same thing.

“Consequently, in the psychology world, this term is dismissed and classified as more of a pseudoscience, with no real scientific credibility to support it.”

He adds: “Depression is not temporary. People can experience a spell of the winter blues due to some of the factors highlighted by Arnall, but depression is a much more distressing and a longer term condition than one key day.”

Similarly, mental health charities like Mind and the Mental Health Foundation point out that hashtag trends such as Blue Monday can trivialise serious health issues.

Mind’s website reads: “Those of us who live with depression know that those feelings aren’t dictated by the date.

“Implying that they are perpetuates the myth that depression is just ‘feeling a bit down’, something that doesn’t need to be taken seriously.”

The charity is asking people to use the hashtag #BlueAnyDay to raise awareness of the reality of depression.

The Mental Health Foundation says: “First, it is important to distinguish between temporarily feeling sad or anxious, which we all do from time to time, and mental health problems that can impact on our ability to take pleasure from day-to-day life.

“Secondly, the idea that depression can somehow be calculated by formula is seen by many to trivialise their lived experience.

“Finally, there is an uncomfortableness at how people's mental health is being commodified in a way that physical health would never be.”

For those suffering from anxiety, depression or any other form of mental illness, no amount of #BlueMonday promotional discounts will solve the problem or shed light on the issue.

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