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Blue Monday: The Most Depressing Day of the Year?

'Blue Monday' by Annie Lee
‘Blue Monday’ by Annie Lee. Credit: Nads White / Twitter

Blue Monday is a term Sky Travel coined in 2005. One used to describe the third—and sometimes second or fourth—Monday of January. It is supposedly the most depressing day of the year, despite the longer, brighter days of Winter Solstice.

Bad weather is evidently primarily to blame for the general gloomy atmosphere of the day, though that explanation is only applicable in the Western Hemisphere. The financial woes and emotional doldrums that occur post-holiday are also a factor. New Year’s resolutions that are impossible to follow being yet another explanation for the global occurrence of the phenomenon.

Is the third Monday of January really the most depressing day of the year, though? Many would disagree with the UK travel group that described it as such. To provide evidence of such a phenomena, the group presented data and an exact formula for what psychologist Dr. Cliff Arnall, a specialist in seasonal disorders at the University of Cardiff, Wales, calls the “depression factor.”

Calculating the most depressing day of the year

The simple formula that Arnall created —at least for mathematicians—was as follows:

 [W + (D-d)] x TQ
 M x NA

The equation can be broken down into seven variables: (W) weather, (D) debt, (d) monthly salary, (T) time since Christmas, (Q) time since failed quit attempt, (M) low motivational levels, and (NA) the need to take action.

“Following the initial thrill of New Year’s celebrations and [turning] over a new leaf, reality starts to sink in,” ABC News quoted Arnall as saying. “The realization coincides with the dark clouds rolling in and the obligation to pay off Christmas credit card bills.”

What he found, according to the news agency, was that “days technically get longer after Dec. 21, cyclonic weather systems take hold in January, bringing low, dark clouds to Britain. Meanwhile, the majority of people break their healthy resolutions six to seven days into the new year, and even the hangers-on have fallen off the wagon, torn off the nicotine patches and eaten the fridge empty by the third week. Any residual dregs of holiday cheer and family fun have kicked the bucket by Jan. 24.”

Don’t blame math—blame the mathematician

“Mathematics compares the most diverse phenomena and discovers the secret analogies that unite them.” So said Joseph Fourier, the French mathematician and physicist. How then can it be wrong?

Arnall based his formula on parameters such as average temperature and days that have passed since December’s payday. He also took into consideration the number of days until the next bank holiday. Furthermore, he calculated daylight hours and number of nights spent indoors, according to Birmingham City University’s School of Social Sciences.

Monday Blues. Credit: Sander Van der Wel, CC-BY-SA-2.0 / Wikimedia

The psychologist was merely a tutor at the Center for Lifelong Learning at the University of Cardiff when he first published his report. According to Ben Goldacre, a columnist at The Guardian, Arnell then sent his publication to numerous academics informing them that he could include their names in his report for the payment of an unspecified monetary sum.

In the article entitled “MS = media slut, but CW = corporate whore,” Goldacre castigated the psychologist for being “the most prodigious of all producers of bogus ‘equations’”. He upbraided him as well for “proving that some arbitrary date in mid-January is the most miserable day of the year for Sky Travel.”

To which Arnall apparently responded: “…to your mentioning my name in conjunction with ‘Walls’ I just received a cheque from them. Cheers and season’s greetings…”

Blue Monday: a melancholic state of mind

Webster’s Dictionary defines Blue Monday as “a Monday that is depressing or trying especially because of the return to work and routine after a weekend.”

Nevertheless, there has been heavy criticism of the concept. In another article on the equation, the School of Social Sciences of Birmingham City University called it “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.”

Moreover this “also weakens general compassion and diminishes the understanding of such conditions by laypeople,” the article stated. In other words, Blue Monday implies psychological and psychiatric struggles are on parity with “feeling a little glum”, very transient, and easily “shaken off.”

“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.”

Still, there are ways to avoid the winter blues if one feels they are suffering from it. For instance, booking a trip to Greece is always a possibility.

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