The idea of Blue Monday was conceived as a PR stunt – but it’s proved remarkably longlasting. So do we need to find ways of coping with the most depressing day of the year?
“The disadvantage of labelling a particular day ‘the most depressing day of the year’ is it can minimize the experience people have with depression during the remaining days of the year.” Samar McCutcheon, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral Health at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
It’s now 20 years since the concept of Blue Monday was invented by a travel firm to increase holiday bookings in January – but some employers, it seems, are taking it seriously.
In 2004, Sky Travel asked academic psychologist Cliff Arnall to come up with a scientific formula to identify the most miserable day of the year. Arnall duly came up with a formula identifying the third Monday in January as the day that was more depressing than any other.
Whether the marketing ploy worked, it’s hard to say – Sky Travel went bust in 2015 – but it certainly generated a lot of newspaper copy. Other PR firms also latched on to the Blue Monday concept as a way of encouraging people to spend money at a time of year when many of us are tightening our belts.
Perhaps more surprisingly, some employers now offer staff a day off on Blue Monday, while insisting that they spend the day on wellness activities such as hiking or volunteering. James Thurlow-Craig, the director of a website design agency, Create Designs, told the Telegraph that January was typically one of the busiest months for new business.
Despite this, the company allows its staff to take Blue Monday off, provided they don’t treat it as “just a hangover day”. Thurlow-Craig said: “Last year we went on a team bike ride, but this year we’re leaving people to their own devices. One of the team is doing charity work, while another is taking the dogs for a long walk.”
This year, the fragrance brand Molton Brown has closed all its stores and offices on 15 January, for a “mental health day”. A member of the Scottish parliament even submitted a motion congratulating the firm “on recognising the importance of supporting colleagues in their mental health and wellbeing.”
Meanwhile, the Samaritans have taken the opportunity to use Blue Monday to promote mental wellbeing. The charity has teamed up with ScotRail for what it calls “Brew Monday”. It wants to dispel the idea the third Monday of January is particularly difficult, as it could discourage people from seeking life-changing help.
The idea of Brew Monday is to encourage staff, friends and family to stay connected by having a cup of tea and a catch-up. To help celebrate and raise awareness of Brew Monday, ScotRail’s mental health first aiders will be holding conversation cafés across the network encouraging staff to check in on their colleagues, friends and family this winter, and spreading the Brew Monday message to passengers.
The formula devised by Arnall looks like this: [W+(D-d)] x TQ divided by M x NA. In this equation, W stands for the weather, D for your debt, d for your monthly salary, T for the time since Christmas, Q for the time since you failed quitting something that you attempted to quit, M for low motivational levels and NA for the need to take action.
Even though Arnall’s tongue was probably firmly in his cheek when the devised the formula, some people argue that the very concept of Blue Monday can be harmful. Even if this is apparent to most people, there are dangers in declaring a single day as the most of anything for everyone. Samar McCutcheon, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral Health at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Forbes: “The disadvantage of labelling a particular day ‘the most depressing day of the year’ is it can minimize the experience people have with depression during the remaining days of the year.”
Nonetheless, January is a time when a lot of us, particularly in the northern hemisphere, can feel a little down. Christmas is behind us, but the days are still cold and the nights are still long. McCutcheon said it was a good idea to “maintain positive social relationships to avoid the isolation that can happen in the winter months.”
Blue Monday – the third Monday in January – is, we are led to believe, the most depressing day of the year. Even though the concept was devised as a way of providing a PR boost for a travel firm, the idea caught on and, despite attempts by academics and mental health experts to discredit it, has proved remarkably resilient. Perhaps that’s because we recognise that, hidden in the pseudoscience is something most of us feel to be true: we do feel more miserable in January, because the weather is still cold, spring feels a long way off and the season of Christmas parties is behind us. We think Samaritans have the right idea in promoting ‘Brew Monday’ – a reminder to reach out to our friends, neighbours and colleagues, initiative conversations and remind ourselves that contact with other humans is one of the best ways to boost our mental wellbeing.