Blue Monday is the most depressing day of the year, apparently. But there’s actually very little science to suggest this – and to top that off, the day’s very existence is trivialising depression, say mental health experts.
The day was originally plugged by a travel company trying to sell January holidays and quickly spiralled into a worldwide marketing opportunity. It’s become an easy way to sell products and services that’ll supposedly make people less depressed.
But all of this can be damaging, say experts. “The idea that there’s one specific day on which you’re most likely to be depressed is at its best unscientific and at its worst trivialises what can be a serious, debilitating and potentially life-threatening condition,” Stephen Buckley, head of information at the mental health charity Mind, tells HuffPost UK.
One in six people will have depression at some point in our lives, and it can have devastating effects. Common symptoms can include inability to sleep, seeing no point in the future, feeling disconnected from others and experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Laura Peters, head of advice and information at Rethink Mental Illness, agrees with Buckley that there’s no evidence to suggest Blue Monday, which falls on 20 January this year, is the day when most people are depressed.
“The science behind it doesn’t add up,” she says. “There’s no such thing as the most depressing day of the year.”
Dr Cliff Arnell, the man who coined the phrase ‘Blue Monday’, has since apologised and said he never intended for people to feel upset because of it. In fact, he said he only did it to encourage people to take a positive outlook on the time of year as an opportunity for new beginnings and change.
But it seems there’s no going back now and, 15 years on, Blue Monday has become an unmoving awareness day in the British calendar.
The whole notion of Blue Monday, which suggests there is a single day when depression somehow ‘strikes’ more than usual, feeds misinformation around mental illness, says Buckley. The fact of the matter is that people live with depression all year around. “It is a serious illness that is a causal factor in suicide – the second biggest killer of people under the age of 29 globally,” he adds.
So why does Blue Monday seem to be such a popular day? “Like any good myth it is based on a modicum of truth,” Peters suggests. “Our mood and wellbeing is affected by our environment, and dark winter months can lead some people to experience low moods.”
There are unexpected positives which have come out of the day, however. For example, some people now use Blue Monday as an opportunity to raise funds for, and awareness around, mental health. It’s the one trend associated with the day which Buckley hopes to see continue.
Samaritans runs Brew Monday as a way of turning the day on its head and into something positive. Friends, family and work mates are encouraged to have a chat over a brew with someone who may be feeling lonely and raise funds for the charity. (Find out more here.)
“Stigma surrounding mental health is decreasing,” says Buckley. “So it’s no surprise many people are using Blue Monday as an opportunity to do good work – from talking to friends about their mental health to raising money at work.”
Useful websites and helplines:
Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.