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The Psychological Dangers of Blue Monday

Birmingham City University psychologist, Professor Craig Jackson, says it’s time to leave Blue Monday behind us once and for all.

Blue Monday 1200x450 - Woman looking out of a rainy window

With all the Coronavirus misery, morbidity and mortality around us, can we now leave Blue Monday behind once and for all?

‘Blue Monday’ is supposedly the most depressing day of the year and was created and calculated using a formula by psychologist Dr Cliff Arnall.

In essence, the third Monday of January although it can vary, is alleged the most depressing day for the UK when calculating the “depression factor”.

The “depression factor” was calculated using some simple parameters: average temperature; days gone since the December payday; number of days until the next bank holiday; daylight hours, and number of nights spent indoors.

Unfortunately when psychology tries to reduce and simplify human experiences such as emotions and mental health to formulae such as this, it reveals itself to be a risible futile pseudoscience.

Many have disputed the validity of the formula claiming it actually makes no sense, and also that health population statistics do not show Blue Monday to manifest in any greater morbidity or mortality rates.

It also does not help the credibility of Blue Monday to know it was originally developed in conjunction with a public relations agency and the holiday firm ‘Sky Travel’ to encourage and nudge fed-up Brits into buying their summer holidays early, to escape the winter blues. The ethics are questionable at best.

Some may say that other professionals lend their expertise to markets and commerce - such as law, architecture, biochemistry, physics, and robotics to name but a few, so why should psychology not apply itself and earn a few shekels too.

It’s not just travel firms though - similar psychological formulae and “key dates” have also been used by ice cream manufacturers, car dealers and weight-loss websites in order to increase customer flow. 

However, gimmickry aside, the notion of Blue Monday can be dangerously misleading for people who struggle with mental health issues and suicidal thoughts. Sufferers’ feelings and experiences are not dictated by what day of the month it is.

It also weakens general compassion and diminishes the understanding of such conditions by laypeople - Blue Monday implies that psychological and psychiatric struggles are on parity with “feeling a little glum” and are very transient, and easily "shaken off".

The Blue Monday fallacy may work because we want it to - we perhaps need some reasons beyond our own control to explain why we may feel so unhappy, so we can reassuringly say “I’m not defective - it’s society”.

Whatever the reasons why some believe it, and whatever purpose some feel it may serve, given all we have been through in over the last nine months, it is time to put Blue Monday to bed.

In a year when nearly every day has been a struggle for millions of people, through no fault of their own, dumbing-down our understanding of depression and low mood does neither wider society or sufferers and favours. Every day feels like a blue day for millions. Blue Monday is irrelevant.