It’s Monday. Or, as the PR industry and media would have it, it’s “Blue Monday” – supposedly the “most depressing day of the year”. Every year the “phenomenon” rears its head on the third Monday of January (have a quick glance at Google to see how many articles have been published online in the past 24hrs). But where does this idea come from and what is the basis for it?
The origin of “Blue Monday”
- The notion that there is a “most depressing day of the year” was first put forward by Cliff Arnall in 2005. Arnall’s formula that led to him pinpointing a particular day was as follows:
“By taking into account various factors such as avg temperature (C), days since last pay (P), days until next bank holiday (B), avg hours of daylight (D) and number of nights in during mth (N), we create a formula such as C(P+B) N+D. This formula allows us to work out the day with the highest ‘depression factor’ which you can then use as a focus for making things better, booking your holiday etc …”
- However, in 2006, Ben Goldacre pointed out on his blog that a PR company for Sky Travel was responsible for the claim and had offered money to individuals to put their name to the story – ostensibly to encourage people to book holidays in mid-January.
- Arnall was also responsible for a claim that June 20th is the “happiest day of the year” in 2006. The formula behind the claim was sponsored by Wall’s ice cream to mark the launch of a photography competition they were running.
- Arnall has since said that he is “encouraging people to refute the whole notion of there being a most depressing day”.
Is there really such a thing as “Blue Monday”?
- Dean Burnett (The Guardian) looks at the methodology of such formulas and exposes how difficult it would be to actually conduct quality research on such a phenomenon.
- Ben Goldacre looks at the evidence of Blue Monday on his blog (post published in 2009), conducting a miniature literature review to see if Arnall’s formula really stacks up.
- Peter Etchells (also The Guardian) points out its flaws and also looks at a more recent claim to the “most depressing day of the year”.
Is there a relationship between season and mood?
- In 2013, in a paper published by the Journal of Affective Disorders, Kerr et al found that prior studies may have “overestimated the prevalence and significance of seasonal variation in depressive symptoms for the general population”.
- In a qualitative review published in Social Science and Medicine (2010), Ajdacic-Gross et al concluded that the historical data suggests that the phenomenon of seasonality in suicide is “inexorably fading away”.
- In a study published in Emotion, Denissen found that their results went “against popular stereotypes about the link between weather and mood”. In particular, they did not find any “weather effects on positive mood”
- A study by Paul Yip, Anne Chao and Calvin Chiu in 2000 and published in The British Journal of Psychiatry, found that the “the seasonal effect on suicide has either diminished or vanished”.
Not that any of this matters as far as the media are concerned. No doubt there will already be countless articles online about this phenomenon by the time I hit publish on this post…
- The Samaritans are available 24hrs a day, 365 days a week to provide support.