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Is Blue Monday really the bluest of them all?

With the Blue Monday phenomenon rearing its head in the news again this year, Laura Hanton takes a look at whether there's anything behind it

Apparently, the third Monday of January is the most depressing day of the year. And that’s not just because you’re in the midst of revision and you haven’t finished the essay that’s due tomorrow, or because you haven’t been paid since last year. Nope, this is science. Proper science, with a formula and everything: ([W + D – d) x TQ) ÷ (M x NA), to be exact.

This scientific ‘breakthrough’ was coined by Cliff Arnell and publicised in a press release by Sky Travel, way back in 2005. The formula incorporates the following factors in a bid to work out when the human race is at its most miserable: weather; debt; salary; time since Christmas; time since failing our new year resolutions; motivational levels and the feeling of a need to take action. Bung in some numbers and hey presto, our dreariest day of 2018 fell on Monday 15th January. At least it got out of the way early on.

Blue Monday may be a little less definitive than we are led to believe

Science aside, was the 15th really any sadder than, say, the day before? First up, the weather: granted, it rained, but it rains a lot of days in January. It rains a lot of days all year round actually, being Britain and all. It’s doubtful that anyone’s debt would have increased dramatically between Sunday and Monday, and similarly their salary is likely to be pretty stable. Post-Christmas blues are perhaps at their peak, but in a lot of cases many people are happy to shun the tree and tinsel and return to normality, whilst – let’s face it – new year’s resolutions are there to be broken.

Maybe people are abnormally bored in their jobs or struggling to keep up Dry January, maybe students are particularly stressed in the midst of exam period and endless days of study, maybe the flu has struck a household or a school or a retirement home and its victims are especially miserable, but it seems Blue Monday may be a little less definitive than we are led to believe.

Yet on the flip-side, Blue Monday could provide an invaluable opportunity to start a conversation about mental health

The promotion of Blue Monday has also become a subject of controversy, finding a lot of critics in the form of mental health advocates and campaigners. Individuals argue that Blue Monday trivialises a serious illness and suggests that certain factors must be occurring for a person to be unhappy, whereas for many depression is inexplicable, a combination of chemical and circumstantial triggers. In 2016, the mental health charity Mind even launched the hashtag #blueanyday, in an attempt to highlight that depression is not ‘a one day event’ and can affect anyone, anytime.

Yet on the flip-side, Blue Monday could provide an invaluable opportunity to start a conversation about mental health, inciting greater awareness and encouraging sufferers to speak out and ask for help. It could also be instrumental in emphasising the existence of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD as it is often referred to, which predominantly rears its ugly head during the winter months.

things aren’t all doom and gloom: the magic formula is also used to determine the happiest day of the year, which tends to fall around midsummer

The causes of the disorder, which is recognised by the NHS as a type of depression appearing in a seasonal pattern, have been identified as relating to the common effects lack of sunlight has upon the hypothalamus part of the brain. For example, in people with SAD, the body tends to produce abnormally high levels of melatonin, the sleepy hormone. This can make an individual excessively tired, leading to a whole host of problems, including low mood.

Lack of sunlight can also cause low levels of serotonin (the happy hormone), whilst shorter days can upset the body’s circadian rhythm, increasing the possibility of symptoms of SAD. These effects could explain why so many of us dream of a warm winter getaway: it seems our bodies really do crave the sun.

SAD is totally treatable, particularly with lifestyle changes that aim to increase exposure to the sun, but also through light therapy, where special super-bright lamps are used to imitate sunlight exposure. If Blue Monday could be used as a platform to raise awareness and promote understanding of SAD and depression in general, perhaps it wouldn’t get quite as much stick as it does. And on a final note, things aren’t all doom and gloom: the magic formula is also used to determine the happiest day of the year, which tends to fall around midsummer. So, let the countdown begin.

For more information about low mood and depression visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/clinical-depression/

Laura Hanton

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Image courtesy of Eric Martin on Flickr.

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