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OPINION15 January 2010

Cheer up: Blue Monday will soon be over

I’m not looking forward to 17 January 2010, which at this desk will be known as Crap Sunday, one day before Blue Monday, the arbitrary media invention of the most depressing day of the year.

I’m not looking forward to 17 January 2010, which at this desk will be known as Crap Sunday, one of the unhappiest days of the year for Talknormalists. Why is this? Because Crap Sunday comes one day before Blue Monday, the arbitrary media invention of the most depressing day of the year, and so it marks the beginning of the (luckily short) season of pseudo-scientific stories which show that this day is, apparently, mathematically depressing.

I’ve written about rubbish equations before, but much to my surprise my blog post alone hasn’t solved the problem. And so this weekend we must hunker down for the annual attack of the idiots.

Look on the bright side. For students of the asinine, Blue Monday 2010 has a lot to offer.

1. There are two Blue Mondays this year. Excitingly, some press releases I’ve seen quote 18 January, some say it’s a week later, on 25 January. This could be a demonstration of how the scientific method means our knowledge advances in small steps; its conclusions should not be taken as revealed truth; they are merely suppositions based on the best evidence that we have today. We should welcome uncertainty as a stimulus for debate and further research.

On the other hand, it might just mean that one PR company timed its campaign a week earlier than the other, and the equation is so vague and subjective that you can fit it to more or less any day of the year if you try hard enough.

2. Who should we put in the stocks and throw fruit at? Dr Ben Goldacre did the real research on this when the equation first showed up. Blue Monday was invented by Porter Novelli (“We have the right conversations with the right people at the right time”) in 2006 for Sky Travel. The idea of the equation was shopped around academics, offering them money if they claimed to have derived it. Dr Cliff Arnall, at the time a temporary lecturer at the Cardiff University Centre for Lifelong Learning, grabbed the opportunity and made some good publicity for himself – though his former employers seem less delighted. He has no genuine insight into the day when you are least happy, but at least he has “Dr” in front of his name. If we could only get a picture of him in a white coat, then Blue Monday would be so much more credible.

3. How do we give depression more pizazz? The question has been asked in a thousand marketing brainstorms. One genuinely sad aspect of Blue Monday every year is the miserable attempt by some PR companies to inject pep into unhappiness by telling us to buy something. Recall that the whole sham was set up to sell holidays; other people use it as an excuse to bung out a lightweight “why not buy this?” press release – just as long as they don’t get too hung up on the depression thing. For example: “‘Blue Monday is believed to highlight a more general temporary gloominess for a usually more balanced and positive population, says Caroline Carr, hypnotherapist and author of the just published Living with Depression.”

General temporary gloominess: translation - ”as a therapist, how can I describe this fictional marketing construct as if it was real so that I can plug my book without overstepping any kind of regulatory guidelines.”

Journalists trot out exactly the same Blue Monday feature every year, partly because the end of January is pretty barren if you’re looking to fill the inside of a local paper. You did detox diets, giving up smoking and and gym membership in week one, and it’s not time to do “Put some spark into your love life with these Valentines Day ideas” yet. Those lifestyle pages don’t fill themselves, you know.

I don’t like to miss out on a misery party and so I feel the urge to explain my personal general temporary gloominess with an equation. After as much as 30 seconds of careful research, I came up with this:

Where D is how depressed I will feel

Ci is the number of column inches given to article Ai where i=1, 2, 3, …
E is the number of times they mention that stupid equation
and delta is the number of days that this story lasts

If you want to use my formula in a meaningless and generic story about how journalism bloggers get sad when they read press releases about Blue Monday, please quote me as “Dr Tim Phillips, an expert in disappointment at the Polytechnic of Cynicism”.

3 Comments

9 years ago

Actually, Cliff Arnall's not a doctor, either medically or academically. It's funny how little effort he makes to correct these basic biographical errors when he has been asked questions by journos in the past - look how long he was referred to as a professor of psychology, when he was only a night school lecturer.

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9 years ago

Dear 'Doctor Tim' The Annual Blue Monday/Cliff Arnall bashing is underway. If you check the web site www.beatbluemonday.org.uk you will find details of a charity fundraising event 'Gloom Aid' taking pace at the O2 Academy, Islington to raise funds for the Depression Alliance. Hope it goes really well, providing a great time for anyone there, and also much needed funds for the charity. The real sad thing, is that there could be dozens of these type of events and wider fund-raising for mental helath charities. Yes, you are quite free, and write amusingly and it's a free world to have an opinion and express it. However, a handful of highly influential figures in the world of psychotherapy have used their influence to deter significant charity involvement in a potentially valuable fund-raising opportunity. Fact: Cliff Arnall didn't coin the term 'Blue Monday', he produced a formula to suggest 'the most depressing day of the year' is the third monday of january (and not the last monday - hence the different claims for jan 18 and 25) As a writer on creative thinking skills I dubbed the event 'Blue Monday' and created a not-for-profit promotional vehicle to encourage people to feel better, and ideally help good causes Most scientists I understand subscribe to the theory of evolution. And that's what we have in Blue Monday - an idea that has evolved into something else; Blue Monday has stumbled across an unquantified, but nonetheless discernable zeitgeist where people feel a little bit down this time of the year- a phenomena perhaps influenced by modern day features such as the credit card bill, monthly pay check. Instead of taking snide potshots, why not recognise the evolution of this idea, harness it for a public good, either with the message about managing your feelings, putting things and life's woes in perspective, and maybe doing something for a good cause. Have a great Blue Monday - and spread the word to make it a day for smiling!

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9 years ago

I too, loathe equations and general psychobabble. However, the early new year can be a particularly challenging time for many people, especially if they are already depressed, and we should all be aware of this in order to help and support those that find it so. I am saddened that you see the day ‘Blue Monday’ (whenever it falls) as a mere excuse for a sales pitch. Depression is hideous for anyone who experiences it, and for their friends and families too. I can assure you that I do not make comments to the press only in the hope that someone will buy my book. They do that anyway. I am just glad to see that at last, the serious issue of depression is getting the media coverage it deserves

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