A Look at the Myth Behind "Blue Monday"

James Logie

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Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Blue Monday is considered to be the third weekend of January and is now referred to as “the saddest day of the year.”

It’s the time of year when the holidays are long behind us, and the bleakness of winter finally sets in.

During December and early January, there is plenty to distract us from the shortened days, frigid temperatures, and lack of sunlight. But by that third weekend, things can seem pretty dreary.

Our holiday debt shows up, and it’s around this time people have already given up on their New Year’s resolutions.

Blue Monday seems to be the culmination of all of these things and it rears its ugly head on the third Monday of the new year. In January 2022, there are actually five Mondays.

Blue Monday seems like a day with scientific study and deep psychological research — except the whole thing was created by a travel company to sell more vacations.

The True Origins of Blue Monday

Blue Monday isn’t the result of years of psychological analysis or scientific research; it was a marketing promotion by a British travel company called Sky Travel.

Sky Travel isn’t around anymore but in 2005, they needed a new campaign to sell people more holidays.

As mentioned, we don’t have a lot of money coming out of the holidays. We tend to overspend and are finally alerted to that fact by the time credit card statements come out later in January.

During this time of year, we are less likely to spend money on ourselves — or on much else — and it’s always been a lean time of year for the travel companies.

The British travel company came up with the slogan after consulting with a professor from the University of Cardiff. They wanted to narrow down a day that would be ideal for a travel promotion.

A formula was developed that considered things such as time since Christmas, weather, salary, and debt.

The issue is the professor from the University was actually a tutor named Cliff Arnall. The Guardian shared that to be a Cardiff University psychologist; you have to either be employed or publish research from the Cardiff School of Psychology.

Arnall had “briefly taught some psychology-related evening classes at the university's adult education center.” There was no scientific basis for the “formula”

Because it came through a press release, media outlets jumped all over it. Since there was a university affiliation to it, many thought this was genuine science.

No one had heard of a “saddest day of the year” before, and now, here it was staring us in the face: Blue Monday.

How Did Blue Monday Grow So Big?

It all has to do with the press release instead of Sky Travel just putting out an ad. If they were looking to generate interest in their travel company, it worked — but not the way they were hoping.

News outlets looked more at the “psychology” of the release and not the fact it was just trying to push cheap vacations for the upcoming summer.

In 2005, the “saddest day of the year” was going to be January 24th. News media like NBC jumped all over this with a report covering this unknown phenomenon dubbed Blue Monday.

In their article, it seems to insinuate he was a university professor. They also refer to him as Dr. Cliff Arnall. They even published the mathematical equation used to formulate the day:

[W+(D-d).] x TQ
M x NA

The variables were (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.

Again, all of this looked official, but there was never any mention that this release came from Sky Travel and not an academic institution.

There was mention of a travel company trying to analyze when people would book holidays — but the term Blue Monday had already quickly picked up traction.

The Big Problem With Blue Monday

The issues of weather and time since Christmas were an insult to people actually suffering from depression or mental illness. Seasonal Affective Disorder — or S.A.D. is also common during this time of year.

Another thing about SAD — and never mentioned with Blue Monday — is that it can hit you during other times of the year; not just in winter.

Pinpointing one single day as the “most depressing of the year” ended up “trivializing how serious depression can be.”

The other big issue that was completely ignored: there was zero evidence for this claim.

The news media just ran with it because it sounded good, and Blue Monday quickly took on a life of its own. Then, other companies took advantage of the term to sell their own goods and services.

Depression and anxiety can’t be isolated to a single day. The term Blue Monday did a huge disservice to people who suffer throughout the year.

Blue Monday trivialized mental health and, unfortunately, we still see mentions of it popping up each year. It minimizes and simplifies things like depression.

With terms like Blue Monday, there becomes an idea that depression and anxiety can be measured and predicted.

Arnall has even said we should just ignore Blue Monday as the most depressing day of the year. He even actively campaigns against it.

The other big problem is this Blue Monday “phenomenon” only applied to the Northern Hemisphere. Since this pseudoscience caught on, it seemed to say that the January depression was only limited to this area of the world.

It was as if you’re only allowed to feel something during January if you lived in a certain part of the world. Feeling down during April in Sydney? According to Blue Monday, it didn’t count.

Key Takeaways

Many PR stunts have gotten out of hand, but none may have had such a damaging impact as Blue Monday.

It’s again crucial to point out that none of this was Arnall's fault. Just like Hallmark tries to sell us love every February 14th, a travel company trying to drive up bookings by creating a PR stunt created Blue Monday.

Even then, it also lands on the media who jumped all over something that sounded good and could create engagement.

The true intent of Sky Travel was to encourage people to take action so they could sell some vacations. Sometimes a marketing promotion can take on a life of its own and the fault also falls on media and news outlets for being quick to report something without looking deeper into it.

This also shows the incredible power of marketing.

If there is any good that came from the Sky Travel Blue Monday promotion, it was that it may have created a discussion every January.

It’s true that S.A.D is a major issue in the Northern Hemisphere this time of year, but it’s also important to note that depression happens year-round.

Depression can’t be isolated to a singular day. The problem is, the myth of Blue Monday has grown so much that it’s become somewhat commonplace — and that’s a dangerous thing.

The idea of Blue Monday may have a major impact on people who don’t know its true origins. If this is something that has affected you, please realize where it comes from.

But also know that your anxiety and depression — and how you’re feeling — are very real things.

January is definitely a tough time, but the entire year can be a tough time, too.

Please seek out a professional or specialist if you’re experiencing the symptoms of depression. This may seem hard, but even just reaching out to your family and friends can help, so you don’t have to go through this alone.

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.

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