For the last handful of years, those of us in the Northern Hemisphere may have heard of a day called Blue Monday, a day dubbed the “most depressing day of the year”.
According to “science”, the day occurs on the third Monday in January, and owes its name to all sorts of variables, including weather, time since Christmas, failing New Year’s resolutions, distance from summer, debt, and of course, the fact that it’s a Monday.
To gain an insight into any potential legitimacy or illegitimacy of “Blue Monday”, we first take a look in how the day came about, and how it was first “calculated”. And for that we need to turn our calendars back to 2005. Or rather, January 24th 2005.
This was when the term “Blue Monday” first came about after a press conference from travel company Sky Travel asserted that an equation had determined that this was the day of 2005 when our happy levels were at their lowest. The equation purportedly came from a psychologist working at Cardiff University by the name Dr. Cliff Arnall (was who actually a part-time evening psychology tutor at the adult education unit) who justified his work partly by asserting “Following the initial thrill of New Year’s celebrations and changing over a new leaf, reality starts to sink in. The realization coincides with the dark clouds rolling in and the obligation to pay off Christmas credit card bills.”
If you were immediately skeptical of a travel company trying to push a “most depressing day of the year” label in January that would inevitably get many thinking about escaping on vacation, then you would perhaps not be surprised that all of this “research” came courtesy of a PR company working on behalf of the travel company. One can only wonder of the possible motivations…[/sarcasm.]
Amidst reports that others in the scientific fields had previously been offered financial incentives by the same PR company to attach their name to an almost identical press releases, it was of less surprise that Dr. Cliff Arnall had also managed to identify the “happiest day of the year” as occurring in June. It was the same PR company behind the press release, but this time the brand sponsoring the “find” was Wall’s Ice Cream.
As for the formula used by Arnall itself, it has been dismissed as “codswallop”, “bunk” and most commonly – blatant pseudoscience by the majority of the scientific community who have offered their time to evaluate the formula.
If we look past the inconvenient fact that the first “Blue Monday” was actually the fourth, not third Monday in January, most dismiss Arnall’s formula based wholly on the fact that he inputted unquantifiable variables into a mathematical equation – variables like “weather”, “the feeling of a need to take action” and “day of the week”.
British physician and science writer Ben Goldacre reported in his Guardian column ..
Now the fact is that Cliff Arnall’s equations are stupid, and some fail even to make mathematical sense on their own terms
In the same article he wrote –
In fact it’s not surprising that these equations are so stupid, because they come from the PR companies almost fully-formed and ready to have your name attached to them. I know that because I have received an avalanche of insider stories – Watergate it isn’t – including one from an academic in psychology who was offered money by Porter Novelli PR agency to put his name to the very same Sky Travel equation story that Arnall sold his to.
Looking past the obvious financial incentive Arnall has to offer his “findings” to a PR company working for a travel company (Arnall admitted to earning £1,625 for identifying the date) many clinical psychologists have expressed worry that such a black and white approach to the complex issue of depression could be more harmful to those more vulnerable in our society.
But I heard the third Monday has officially been named “Blue Monday”?
It hasn’t. “Blue Monday” is not an ‘officially’ recognised day in any culture or organisation.
To summarise… (the social media take-away)
No, Blue Monday has not been recognised by science as the most depressing day of the year. Picking one day from the calendar and purporting to have a formula to denounce it as the “most depressing” day of the year does a disservice to the complex issue of depression. Despite this, the term has certainly managed to wedge one foot firmly in the door to mainstream recognition, despite its total lack of credibility.