On Monday, January 24, 2005, a press release was issued stating that a formula had been developed that could identify the most depressing day of the year. The formula takes into account a variety of factors including weather, financial debt, the time since Christmas, the time since New Year’s Resolutions were broken, and motivation. The release was published by the British company, Sky Travel, and the person credited with developing this formula was Cliff Arnall, a doctor working at Cardiff University at the time.
The formula looked something like this:
[W + (D-d)] X TQ / M X Na
Where W= weather, D=debt, d= monthly salary, T=time since Christmas, Q=time since a person has failed their first new year’s resolution, M= motivation level, and Na= the need for action. Using the formula, it was determined that the most depressing day of the year is most often the third Monday of January.
Over the years, this idea has been covered in various respectable publications. Companies have used Blue Monday to promote products that are aimed at improving people’s mental health. Blue Monday also often trends on social media, and the idea that the third Monday of January is the most depressing day of the year has spread around the world.
Unfortunately, this is not true. There is no scientific evidence to support this idea. In fact, Blue Monday was originally a PR Stunt to sell vacations. Cliff Arnall, who was a part-time psychology tutor at the time, had been approached by an advertising agency and offered a substantial sum to work on a formula and lend his name (and some credibility) to the press release. Arnall’s formula was only intended to identify the motives people had to want to book a holiday. He “had no idea the formula was going to take off.” Nowadays, Arnall campaigns against Blue Monday and urges people not to think of depression as the product of a day on the calendar. Rather, he urges people “to take action and make bold life decisions rather than emphasizing misery [sic] of year’s joyless date.”
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.
And Sky Travel, the company that issued the press release? That company is now defunct. Despite all this, a lot of good has come from the idea of Blue Monday. Though the formula is not based in science, there is weight to the fact that weather, colder temperatures, and shorter days, do affect mood and lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Blue Monday has spurred Organizations around the world to develop campaigns to support people struggling with and increase understanding of genuine mental health problems like depression.
As awareness increases, more people recognize the truth that any day of the week can be “Blue.” Depression is complex and also very personal. Many factors contribute to the development and intensity of the real-life experience of depression.
Pseudopsychology like “Blue Monday” has also raised awareness of the dangers of oversimplifying mental health and mental illness. This has become more of an issue with the prevalence of social media posts claiming to identify and diagnose mental health disorders. Struggling with mental health can make us feel vulnerable, confused, and alone. Feeling isolated and different, we want to find community and a sense of belonging, to get answers in response to our anxiety and our worries. Social media is an easy way to provide temporary relief from these. Ultimately, though, it is important to reach out to professionals who can provide the particular help that we need. Counseling can be a beneficial way to explore what we are experiencing, identify effective coping skills, and develop ways that we can manage how we are feeling. In our need to feel normal, in our search for answers, we risk not recognizing and acknowledging our own uniqueness and the personal nature of our experiences. It is essential to recognize that it is okay not to be okay. It takes a lot of courage to look at ourselves honestly and reach out for the help we need.
Lifelines like TELL can help. Lifelines are an opportunity to talk to someone who listens without judgment and accepts you and your experiences with authenticity and respect. Talking about what you are going through is an essential first step toward making a positive difference in your life.