Every year, the third Monday of January is dubbed “Blue Monday”.
The theory goes that this is the time of year when we’re all cold, broke and riddled with guilt that our new year’s resolutions to get fit, drink less alcohol, and be a better human being have fallen by the wayside.
And of course in 2021, we're dealing with yet another lockdown on top of the annual January difficulties.
But is Blue Monday really the most depressing day of the year, as it’s often called, or is the label just a misguided PR stunt?
The concept was originally coined in 2004 by psychologist Cliff Arnall.
He came up with a “formula” for the January blues after he was asked to do so by travel firm Sky Travel, who then used the phrase in a press release to promote their winter deals.
It took into account a number of factors likely to contribute to low mood and read as follows:
W = weather
D = debt
d = monthly salary
T = time since Christmas
Q = time since failing our new year's resolutions
M = low motivational levels
Na = the feeling of a need to take action
Arnall has since confessed that the formula is essentially pseudoscience and has urged Brits to “refute the whole notion” of Blue Monday.
"I was originally asked to come up with what I thought was the best day to book a summer holiday but when I started thinking about the motives for booking a holiday, reflecting on what thousands had told me during stress management or happiness workshops, there were these factors that pointed to the third Monday in January as being particularly depressing,” he told The Daily Telegraph in 2013.
“But it is not particularly helpful to put that out there and say 'there you are',” he added, describing Blue Monday as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
That hasn’t stopped PRs and marketing firms from manipulating the concept and using it as a golden sales opportunity, enabling them to capitalise on the assumption that everyone is miserable on this particluar day and therefore vulnerable to advertising.
But playing it so fast and loose with mental health terminology can have some insidious effects.
Chartered psychologist Dr Joan Harvey describes the concept as “completely meaningless”, particularly with regards to claims that poor weather is one of the main reasons why Blue Monday is so blue.
“If it’s really bright and sunny, you might even find yourself feeling cheerful on the day,” she tells The Independent.
While Harvey points out that seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can leave people feeling depressed during the winter months, she stresses that pegging depression to one day in particular is “sensationalist nonsense”.
Stephen Buckley, head of information at mental health charity Mind, adds that Blue Monday campaigns often trivialise what can be a serious, debilitating and potentially life-threatening condition.
“One in six of us will experience depression at some time in our lives, and it can have devastating effects on every part of our lives,” he tells The Independent.
“It can leave people unable to sleep, feeling disconnected from others and experiencing suicidal thoughts.”
Buckley adds that although January can be difficult due to financial strains and failing new year’s resolutions, these things should not be conflated with clinical depression.
“By suggesting anyone and everyone can feel depressed in a single day, we risk belittling the experiences of those living with a serious illness.”
That being said, one positive element of Blue Monday is that it represents a chance to tackle some of the stigma surrounding depression and raise awareness of its symptoms, says Isabella Goldie, Director at the Mental Health Foundation.
“What we can take from Blue Monday is that we all have mental health and that there are steps we can take all year round to protect it,” she tells The Independent.
“This is an ongoing challenge, as it’s important that we all do more to self-care for our mental health in the way we look after our physical health, without stressing about it.”
Mind has plenty of resources on its website for those experiencing depression. Click here to access information on symptoms, cognitive behavioural therapy and helplines in addition to tips on self-care, getting enough sleep, and staying active.
If you have been affected by any issues mentioned in this article, you can contact The Samaritans for free on 116 123 or any of the following mental health organisations: