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Fact/Fiction: Is Blue Monday real?

Old news, truthfully retold. This week we delve into the phenomenon of Blue Monday to see if science proves it is the most depressing day of the year

Every week in Fact/Fiction, The Big Issue examines spurious claims, questionable studies or debatable stories from the press to determine whether they are fact or fiction. This week we delve into whether there is any truth in the so-called most depressing day of the year, Blue Monday.

How it was told

Mark your calendars, another January can mean only one thing: Blue Monday is upon us. 

In these hard times, it is difficult to determine just which day could be classed as the most depressing day of the year. It’s January 18 apparently – the third Monday of the month. 

Why that day? It’s supposedly when all the gloomiest parts of January come together to hit hardest. Christmas is a distant memory apart from in your bank account, the temperatures have plummeted, it seems to get dark at 2pm every day and the new year’s resolutions have been broken.  

Blue Monday always gets plenty of coverage in the press, and the Hello! website wins the award for the first mention in 2021. The last verse of Auld Lang Syne had barely been sung when the outlet published: “How to beat Blue Monday: 15 easy ways to boost your mood this January” on January 1. 

Hello! is far from alone, of course. There is no shortage of articles professing to offer advice on how to negotiate Blue Monday. Take, for example, Mail Online’s effort last year: “Dreading Blue Monday? Psychologist reveals the mood-boosting tricks to try this weekend – including doing NOTHING for 15 minutes a day”. 

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But is Blue Monday a real thing with the scientific research to back it up?

Facts. Checked

While the New Order song certainly exists, Blue Monday itself is a hoax. 

There is no scientific research that backs up the reasoning behind honing in on January 18 and, to be fair to media outlets, many now reflect this with their coverage. 

Instead of roots in science, a PR campaign for now-defunct TV channel Sky Travel birthed the Blue Monday formula back in 2005 and inadvertently triggered 16 years of dismay for scientists. 

According to the i’s excellent 2020 article “Blue Monday: how the myth of a ‘most depressing day of the year’ spiralled out of control”, the man to blame is Cliff Arnall. 

Arnall was a reportedly a psychology tutor at a further education centre attached to Cardiff University when he was approached by PR agency Porter Novelli to work on the formula. Arnall was asked to find the best day for people to book a holiday which led to him trying to find the most depressing day of the year, and the rest is history. 

But as the idea has taken on a life of its own beyond that press release, that doesn’t mean that people don’t believe in the concept. Analysis published by the University of East London on The Conversation warned of the idea becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy – because people expect to feel a certain way it makes them more likely to do so. 

The academics also suggest people gravitate to the idea because “it is inherent to all human beings to make sense of the randomness all around us”. 

It’s not just researchers – charities helping people through their daily mental health struggles also oppose the myth. 

Leading charity Mind has been particularly vocal on the subject. Mind experts have warned that “Blue Monday contributes to damaging misconceptions about depression and trivialises an illness that can be life threatening” and slammed the made-up day for treating mental illness as a “one-day event”. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on mental health – Mind analysis of NHS Digital figures during the first national lockdown last spring found that mental health referrals were up by 15 per cent. 

The latest lockdown has sparked fears of an ongoing mental health crisis across the UK. The former King’s Fund CEO Sir Chris Ham warned in the British Medical Journal that “the effect of Covid-19 on mental health and wellbeing has been substantial”. 

If Blue Monday is to have any use, perhaps the best thing to do this year is to talk to someone if you’re struggling with your mental health and feel comfortable sharing rather than letting the myth get you down.

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