"Blue Monday" - science fact or fiction?

Is there any science behind the so-called "most depressing day of the year"?
29 January 2019


This is a picture of the view through a window on a rainy day


Have you ever felt a bit low in the weeks post Christmas? Could it be related to a phenomenon known as Blue Monday? Or is that just a “mythconception”? Georgia Mills has been finding out...

You may have seen a recent flurry of activity about Blue Monday which is apparently the most depressing day of the year. According to the many websites and outlets that cover the dismal day, a mixture of things contributes to our low moods - lack of sunshine and warmth. post Christmas blues and lack of funds and of course Monday being the first day of the working week.

Although this all stands to reason it's a load of bunk. Blue Monday was made up by Sky Travel to sell winter holidays. In 2005 they put out a press release with an equation for sadness under the name of a psychologist Cliff Arnall. The equation - pay attention was weather plus debt minus monthly salary times time since Christmas and since failing your New Year's resolutions.

Got it? All that divided by low motivation times the feeling of the need to take action. If this seems a little incoherent to you i.e. what number would weather be? you're in good company. The psychologist himself has since refuted it as total pseudoscience. Fast forward 14 years later and companies everywhere are trying to leap on the Blue Monday bandwagon and persuade people to part with their cash to cheer themselves up, willfully ignoring the fact that lack of funds is one of the reasons people are meant to be depressed in the first place.

To some the very idea of Blue Monday is offensive. Depression is a serious and long term condition, not something that hits you on one day a year because you failed your New Year's resolutions or one that can be cured by going to the Maldives. It's also been criticized as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tell people they'll be sad on a specific day and they will be.

Depression does strike some people much worse over winter. This is partly due to something called seasonal affective disorder a.k.a. winter depression. The causes of this aren't totally understood but thought to be down to a lack of sunlight in the winter months which means a part of your brain called the hypothalamus stops working so well. This can lead to levels of important hormones like melatonin which helps with energy and serotonin which can boost happiness get lower leading to lethargy and low mood. The good news is that lightbox treatments can be a very effective therapy, as can changing a lifestyle to be outside during those few precious hours of sunlight.

But in general conflating temporary weather gripes and post Christmas fund gaps with genuine depression isn't particularly helpful. However while Blue Monday sprang up as a cynical cash grab, charities are now using it as a day to reach out to people who are struggling and provide support and information as well as raising awareness of mental illness. So that's something to be happy about.


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