Controversially known as the ‘most depressing day of the year’, the existence of Blue Monday – dated 15 January this year – has been debated 13 years.

However, the invention of the term in 2005 by psychologist Dr Cliff Arnall, was nothing more than a strategised business tactic. Sky Travel, a holiday company under British Sky Broadcasting, paid Arnall – who worked as a part-time tutor at Cardiff University until February 2006 – to invent a formula to identify the saddest day of the year, to boost holiday bookings.

The seemingly complex equation, has since received criticism from many experts in the field for the lack of scientific evidence.

The controversial equation of Blue Monday, which is broken down into seven variables: (W) weather, (D) debt, (d) monthly salary, (T) time since Christmas, (Q) time since failed quit attempt, (M) low motivational levels and (Na) the need to take action.
The controversial equation of Blue Monday, which is broken down into seven variables: (W) weather, (D) debt, (d) monthly salary, (T) time since Christmas, (Q) time since failed quit attempt, (M) low motivational levels and (Na) the need to take action.

At the time, Arnall claimed that high expenditure during Christmas time would cause financial strain in January and combined with poor weather, broken resolutions and low motivation, individuals were likely to be depressed by the third Monday of January.

It is a widespread phenomenon that many companies cash in on, but mental health organisations are now trying to spread awareness as to how Blue Monday is detrimental.

The charity MIND, for example has called the day a “misleading phenomenon” while the Samaritans are reclaiming it by turning it into ‘Brew Day’ where they offer tea and a chance for people to share their mental health problems.

Unquantifiable factors put ‘Blue Monday’ to rest

Dr Dean Burnett, a psychology lecturer at Cardiff University for the past decade, believes the factors of the equation are “arbitrary variables that are impossible to quantify and largely incompatible.”

“True clinical depression is a far more complex condition that is affected by many factors, chronic and temporary, internal and external. What is extremely unlikely is that there is a reliable set of external factors that cause depression in an entire population at the same time every year,” he added.

Dr Dean Burnett, expresses that “the equation itself is farcical,” stating that the variables are not part of the metric system, therefore unquantifiable. Photo credit: Wales Online
Dr Dean Burnett, expresses that “the equation itself is farcical,” stating that the variables are not part of the metric system, therefore unquantifiable. Photo credit: Wales Online

The unscientific concept causes more serious issues for sufferers, such as Sophie Edwards, a 20-year-old student who suffered from anxiety and panic attacks since the age of seven. She currently runs a blog about mental health, and stated that the issue is much deeper.

“I think Blue Monday is a load of rubbish to be honest - it's just a label on an ordinary day but it puts a lot of pressure on people who already have a mental illness to overcome it. It adds a lot of anxiety to the day and people get worried about the build-up of it,” she said.

Many are also concerned that Blue Monday undermines real mental health problems. Burnett says it is “disrespectful to those who suffer from genuine depression, suggesting that it is temporary, minor and experienced by everyone, rather than what may be a chronic and incapacitating condition.”

MIND stated, “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.”

Campaigning Blue Monday for a different meaning



Arnall himself has since confessed that believing in Blue Monday could be a self-fulfilling prophecy, and has said it was never his intention to make the day sound negative. And perhaps, that is the one good thing from the annual anniversary of the day – encouraging people to talk about their mental health in general.

Dr Philip Clarke, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Derby says, “Blue Monday is getting people having those difficult conversations about depression and anxiety and what you can actually do to help with that. I think that's a really strong benefit that comes with it."

Business strategy or not, Arnall has now partnered with multiple holiday agencies – this year, with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays in their ‘Screw It, Let’s do it’ campaign– to reinvent the term Blue Monday to encourage a positive mindset in January.

“Whether embarking on a new career, meeting new friends, taking up a new hobby or booking a new adventure, January is actually a great time to make those big decisions for the year ahead,” he advised. MIMS

Read More:
Ho-ho-holiday disorders: When seasonal holidays are not as merry
Blessing in disguise: Digital platforms offer often-sought anonymity for mental health sufferers
Calling a spade, a spade: The use of subtle language – and how it affects patients' and public perception

Sources:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-5270913/Mental-Health-organisation-slam-Blue-Monday-hoax.html#ixzz54JBiS8pu
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-42694102
http://metro.co.uk/2018/01/15/today-blue-monday-doesnt-exist-7229499/ https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2012/jan/16/blue-monday-depressing-day-pseudoscience
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/blue-monday-apology-depressing-january-misey-money-disposable-income-psychology-dr-cliff-arnall-a8143246.html
http://www.nbcnews.com/id/6847012/
https://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2013/jan/21/blue-monday-depressing-day-nonsense-science