It’s that time of year where once more the tabloid press, bloggers, online media etc. will be telling us all that next Monday (20th January 2020) is Blue Monday; the most depressing day of the year.
The concept of the 3rd Monday of the year, being the most depressing day, stems from an article for Sky Travel magazine (hint: it’s not a peer-reviewed academic publication) in 2005 by Cliff Arnall who at the time of the publication going to print was a tutor of psychology at Cardiff University. The original publication went viral, and before long companies (including Specsavers, Northern Rail, Edinburgh Camber of Commerce, etc.) produced products and advertising campaigns to jump on the Blue Monday bandwagon. Even some mental health charities continue to keep the hashtag trending !
Interestingly enough, Cliff Arnall now has a campaign called #StopBlueMonday to try and turn the tide of literature against the misunderstanding of Blue Monday formula that he created. However, it is a bit of a Pandora’s box, as there are already social media hashtags trending for #BlueMonday one week ahead of the 3rd Monday of January 2020.
You could argue that it is “just a bit of fun” or that it “raises serious issues“. Yes to both, but there are better ways to highlight mental health and wellbeing, that are based on good quality science. It will eventually be good and robust science, that will help with improving people’s poor mental health and wellbeing, or prevent poor mental health from taking over people’s lives in the first place. Liking and sharing articles about Blue Monday on Facebook, or retweeting the hashtag on Twitter, or buying the Daily Mail to read up on it, helps to spread misinformation. Misinformation erodes our quest for knowledge as we develop cognitive biases, such as confirmation and selection bias, which can lead the masses seeing academics as part of the social elite, which can lead to all kinds of societal problems (you only need to look at the damage the “anti-vaxxer” movement or “pro-plaguers” have created in recent years).
Real depression isn’t simple. You can’t come up with a simple equation like the one used for Blue Monday (and that equation isn’t even mathematically correct according to Dr Ben Goldacre in his Bad Science column for the Guardian newspaper). Depression is an over used word “I’m so depressed” meaning, I am a little bit down; or “That’s so depressing” referring to my liking of a 1983 house classic by my teenage son. True clinical depression is disabling, it is a chronic condition that impacts on your relationships, your work, your daily functioning. It is a horrible condition that according to the World Health Organization effects around 264,000,000 people world wide. It is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and has a significant stigma attached to it. By trivializing depression through Blue Monday, we are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy for those who are genuinely struggling, as well as for those who aren’t struggling with their mood.
If you want to know what depression is like, watch this short animated clip below from Matthew Johnstone who is an illustrator, author and public speaker.
If you want to help someone with depression, don’t promote Blue Monday, but instead promote everyday as a day to improve your mental wellbeing. Talk to your friends and family, read up on the 5 Ways to Wellbeing and take action.
If you are struggling with your mental health, you can find out where to get support here.
“But there’s no sense in telling me.
The wisdom of the fool won’t set you free
But that’s the way it goes
And it’s what nobody knows
Well ever day my confusion grows”New Order (thanks to @peteqconsult )