It’s Blue Monday and I’ll smile if I want to: Is the ‘saddest day of the year’ just a marketing myth?

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At Christmas, we should ‘eat, drink, and be merry’; on Fridays, we party, whilst Sundays are ‘fun days’; woe betide us if we don’t have a date for Valentine’s Day; Black Friday and Boxing Day are for sprinting around the sales; and on the third Monday of every January, we are all supposedly…blue.

Blue Monday, which fell this year on the 21st January, is apparently ‘the saddest day of the year’. It seems to make enough ostensible sense: Christmas is over, the weather is poor, and many of us are struggling financially. But where did the concept of Blue Monday originate, and is it a valuable way of bringing the topic of mental health to the fore, or just another marketing ploy?

The idea that the same factors affect us all equally, or even that emotion can be predicted by a set of specific criteria, seems at best far-fetched and at worst, potentially damaging.

The term ‘Blue Monday’ first appeared in a marketing campaign by Sky Travel to promote their winter deals, and various companies have since followed suit in an attempt to capitalise on our apparent misery, offering everything from 70% off clothing to 10p Freddos. The day itself was calculated by a psychologist using a formula which comprised of factors such as time since Christmas, levels of motivation, monthly salary, and the weather. At a brief glance, this seems fairly logical and innocuous. But the idea that the same factors affect us all equally, or even that emotion can be predicted by a set of specific criteria, seems at best far-fetched and at worst, potentially damaging.

The concept of ‘Blue Monday’ is in itself a negative one, seeming almost to insinuate that we ought to feel miserable. Perhaps you woke up feeling positive and productive last Monday, then saw #BlueMonday flash up on your phone, and suddenly your day started to go ‘wrong’ by way of self-fulfilling prophecy. In actuality, mental health and human emotions are more erratic than the weather; they cannot be predicted or forecast by a set of arbitrary criteria, and to suggest that they can is to perpetuate the idea that there is a one-size-fits-all cause and cure to low mood and mental illness. Even the psychologist who created the formula for Blue Monday has since admitted it to be ‘incorrect’ and ‘pseudoscientific’.

If Blue Monday is instead intended to raise awareness of mental illnesses, such as clinical depression and seasonal affective disorder, then it is alarmingly misguided.

Still, proponents of Blue Monday argue that at least it ‘raises awareness’. Awareness of what, one might ask? That we all feel ‘blue’ from time to time is no new phenomenon, and to suggest that we need to raise awareness of the fact that everyone experiences ‘sadness’ is somewhat disheartening in 2019. If Blue Monday is instead intended to raise awareness of mental illnesses, such as clinical depression and seasonal affective disorder, then it is alarmingly misguided. To attempt to tie a phrase like ‘Blue Monday’ to suicide or depression is to trivialise what are actually complex and devastating illnesses. Mental illness is never confined to one single day. Studies have actually found that suicide rates reach their peak in the spring. Suicide isn’t the consequence of ‘feeling a bit blue’, nor is ‘sadness’ even necessarily a symptom of depression at all; quite often, it is characterised by an absence of feeling, a numbness.

No day in the calendar can or should dictate what we feel, act, think, or worst of all, buy.

Furthermore, numerous mental health awareness days and events already exist, such as World Mental Health Day, World Suicide Prevention Day, PTSD Awareness Month, National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and Mind’s ‘Time To Talk’ Day. Days such as these raise awareness of mental illnesses in positive, proactive ways. If we must subscribe to any particular day at all, why not one that promotes positivity? (World Kindness Day, anyone?) I will never be against an opportunity to raise mental health awareness; rather, I encourage it: the more we can learn, the more we can lessen stigma, the more comfortable we feel discussing it, the better. But it is difficult to claim that Blue Monday — with its commercial origins and trivialisation of complex illnesses — contributes productively to this awareness.

No day in the calendar can, or should, dictate what we feel, act, think, or worst of all, buy. Nobody should feel guilty for failing to feel festive at Christmas time or disappointed on their birthday, it’s perfectly okay to be single on Valentine’s Day, and it is no less than human to experience a spectrum of emotions on so-called ‘Blue Monday’.

Illustration by Asia Cossu. 

2 thoughts on “It’s Blue Monday and I’ll smile if I want to: Is the ‘saddest day of the year’ just a marketing myth?

  • In the end, it’s just an empty, idiotic slogan to sell things. And it’s safe to ignore. I paid it no attention whatsoever, like much of what turns up on breakfast news as it only serves to be filler and marketing puff.

    Go and live instead, it’s much more fun.

    Reply
    • My sentiments exactly! 🙂

      Reply

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