Why ‘Blue Monday’ isn’t really that blue: Mental health charities claim there’s no evidence January 16 is gloomiest day of the year
- Supposedly the saddest day of the year, Blue Monday is now an annual event
- Only invented in 2005, the day has since been debunked as pseudoscience
- Mental charities say ‘Blue Monday’ is actually harmful and should be abolished
Today is supposedly the most depressing day of the year due to a perfect storm of post-holiday blues, debt between paychecks, gloomy January weather, and broken New Year’s resolutions.
At least, that’s what a marketing campaign from 2005 wants you to believe.
Blue Monday is an annual event that sees a plethora of product giveaways for tech, books and games, and promotion of wellness goods and services, all with the supposed mission of helping people get through the ‘most depressing day of the year’.
However, experts and mental health charities have dismissed it as a pseudoscience gimmick with no real evidence to back it up.
Is Blue Monday, the supposedly saddest day of the year due to combo of post-holiday blues, financial woes and gloomy weather all its claimed to be? Experts say no (stock images)
Some even claim a particular focus on the day is damaging to legitimate discussions about mental health and have called for it to be abolished.
The origins of Blue Monday can be traced to a marketing scheme by Sky Travel in 2005, designed to sell holidays to Britons.
The firm asked British psychologist Cliff Arnall to calculate the most depressing day of the year, with the aim of then encouraging people to book a trip overseas to help banish these winter blues.
Dr Arnall created an ‘equation’, which incorporated factors like weather, debt, salary, time since Christmas, New Year’s resolutions, low motivational levels, and ‘need to take action’.
The original 2005 result was January 24, although since then it has generally been held on the third Monday of the first month of the year.
Dr Arnall’s equation has been debunked as essentially meaningless, as factors like ‘weather’ are so variable.
But his idea proved so popular that since 2005 a tsunami of firms now promote Blue Monday giveaways or launch wellness apps each year to cash in on the trend.
For example, tech store Currys offered the chance to win £500 worth of vouchers to ‘brighten up your #BlueMonday’ to Twitter users who retweeted their post.
Professor Subodh Dave, dean of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, claimed it was important to remember while depression was real, Blue Monday isn’t.
‘Blue Monday started out as a marketing scheme that was designed to sell summer holidays to people at the beginning of the year,’ he said.
‘It is based on a non-scientific formula that claims the combination of days since Christmas, debt and bad weather makes the third Monday of January the saddest day of the year.’
Health charities, like Samaritans, have continually tried to counteract Blue Monday messaging and instead use the day to better support people’s mental health
Some companies, like this example from Currys use ‘Blue Monday’ as an opportunity to promote giveaways with the idea of helping ‘brighten up’ the supposed ‘saddest day of the year’
While it is normal to feel down from time to time, people with depression may feel persistently unhappy for weeks or months on end.
Depression can affect anyone at any age and is fairly common – approximately one in ten people are likely to experience it at some point in their life.
Depression is a genuine health condition which people cannot just ignore or ‘snap out of it’.
Symptoms and effects vary, but can include constantly feeling upset or hopeless, or losing interest in things you used to enjoy.
It can also cause physical symptoms such as problems sleeping, tiredness, having a low appetite or sex drive, and even feeling physical pain.
In extreme cases it can lead to suicidal thoughts.
Traumatic events can trigger it, and people with a family history may be more at risk.
It is important to see a doctor if you think you or someone you know has depression, as it can be managed with lifestyle changes, therapy or medication.
Source: NHS Choices
He added the focus on Blue Monday can underplay the seriousness of depression, with the condition capable of occurring at any time of the year.
‘Conditions such as depression can manifest at any time and can take months or even years to recover from,’ he said.
‘Blue Monday supposedly falls on the third Monday of January, however, people living with depression and anxiety have to cope with it every day.
‘We need more regular and open conversations about mental health if we are to encourage more people to get the help they need.’
However, Professor Dave said while Blue Monday isn’t real, the mental health battle facing Brits is.
‘We are now in the middle of January and many people are starting to feel the full effects of the cost-of-living crisis,’ he said.
‘Families are being forced to choose between heating their homes and feeding themselves.
‘That is a decision that nobody should be forced to make, and would undeniably make anyone stressed or anxious, but in more severe cases it can also contribute to serious mental health problems.’
He urged people not to put off seeking help for depression and urged people who have been suffering from symptoms to talk to their GP who can signpost them to available treatments.
Mind’s Head of Information Stephen Buckley also criticised the focus on Blue Monday.
‘Blue Monday contributes to damaging misconceptions about depression and trivialises an illness that can be life threatening,’ he said.
‘There is no credible evidence to suggest that one day in particular can increase the risk of people feeling depressed.’
The Mental Health Foundation also argued there was no evidence Blue Monday is real.
‘No actual scientific studies have ever backed up any claims about Blue Monday,’ a spokesperson said.
‘We should not just be thinking about our mental health on January 16 this year, but on every day of the year.’
Prescriptions for antidepressants among teens have risen by a quarter in England in 2020 compared to 2016. The greatest growth was seen among 13 and 19-year-olds where prescription rates rose by about a third
Young adults, who are often leaving home for the first time and starting their careers also saw antidepressant prescription rates boom by about 40 per cent
Fellow mental health charity Samaritans has also hit out against Blue Monday and has campaigned to replaced it with Brew Monday.
This is a day for people to reach out to each other, in person or digitally, over a cup of tea and check in on each other’s mental health.
Paul McDonald, executive director of external affairs at Samaritans, told MailOnline the mental health crisis charity didn’t see an increase of calls on the ‘erroneously titled’ Blue Monday.
‘It’s especially important to dispel the Blue Monday myth this year – hopefully once and for all – because help-seeking has never been more important,’ he said.
‘With the cost-of-living pressures following directly on from the pandemic, on top of “everyday” challenges – times are tough.’
He added that rather than a harmless marketing gimmick, the focus on Blue Monday could discourage people from seeking the support they needed.
‘Perpetuating “Blue Monday” may put people off reaching for help if they think everyone else is also feeling down,’ he said.
‘It could also lead people to think they “ought” to be feeling sad, or believe other people are “in worse” situations.
‘We do not want anyone to dismiss or minimize the challenging issues they’re facing.’
Instead, Mr McDonald urged people to take part in Brew Monday: ‘Every reminder that help is available, and that there are reasons to be hopeful can be life-changing – lifesaving even.’
While Blue Monday specifically may be a myth, there are some legitimate reasons why winter can worsen mental health.
One is a type of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as ‘winter depression’.
The NHS says the exact cause of SAD isn’t fully understood but it is thought to be linked to a lack of exposure to sunlight during autumn and winter.
Experts think the lack of natural light, and modern work patterns meaning many people miss out on what little sun there is during this part of year, might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working correctly.
The hypothalamus produces chemicals that help govern sleep and mood, so disruption to it could be behind SAD.
The condition may also have a genetic link as SAD has been found to run in some families.
The NHS estimates that about 2million people in the UK suffer from SAD, roughly three in 100 people.
While people may feel low from time-to-time, those with clinical depression feel persistently unhappy for weeks or months on end.
It can affect anyone at any age and approximately one in 10 people are likely to experience it at some point in their life.
Contrary to what some people think, depression is a genuine health condition which people cannot just ignore or ‘snap out of’ and cheer up.
The causes of depression can vary, sometimes linked to stress, a family history of the condition, illness, substance abuse, childhood trauma, giving birth, or in conjunction with another mental illness.
Symptoms can also differ significantly, ranging from mentally feeling low to the physical such as losing weight, impotency, and insomnia.
In severe cases, people can become suicidal and kill themselves.
Treatment for depression depends on the severity of the condition, ranging from social prescribing of exercise, therapy and medication like antidepressants.
An analysis of NHS data published July last year found the number of antidepressants doled out to 13 to 19-year-olds rose by a quarter between 2016 and 2020.
It included prescriptions up to the end of 2020, following a year of national Covid lockdowns and school and university closures.
An increasing amount of evidence is beginning to accrue showing that restrictions took a heavy toll on young people’s mental health.
The NHS data — obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request — also showed antidepressants use rose sharply among adults in their 20s.
Mental health and children’s charities told MailOnline the data was an ‘alarming sign’ of a mental health crisis in Britain.
They warned some young people may have been given drugs by GPs because they can’t get counselling due to pandemic backlogs.
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