The Blog

The Most Depressing Day of the Year: The Not So Depressing Truth

Why is the media so hooked on a patent PR whim, and why do they trumpet it every third Monday of January?

"If you're going to mention us please include our number in the article."

He's handled my call with the grace and professionalism of a press officer who's opted out of journalism to navigate a major charity through the choppy waters of press and media; to wit, I am having one of the most enlightening chats of my life. He mentions a deeply entrenched view, which many journalists have, that every Christmas his charity's phone lines ring red-hot, but he stresses that they're mistaken. Volunteers want to be with friends or family at Christmas too; so the offices, like any other offices, are not as staffed as they are normally. If anything, the overall volume of calls declines because people are together and hey, the drink is flowing.

Apparently, there is anecdotal evidence available to confirm that some people do feel worse than usual at Christmas, but those who do are not as many as those who feel bad per se. The only surge- if we can call it that- comes when the festivities end and things return to normal. But normal is never notably high or low in the context of the monthly averages.

I suggest that all this would seem to support that a most depressing day of the year could indeed fall in January, whereupon he insists,

"No! Because when people feel bad they just feel bad!"

Before I dial 08457 909090 that afternoon, I'm speaking with a professor of psychology- contacting Samaritans is his idea. He thinks they are best placed to produce an accurate metric to support or refute this idea of a 'Blue Monday.' He's contemptuous of this 'most depressing day' concept bolstered by its bogus equation, and he doesn't mind saying so. He uses the words "daft" and "silly" and chucks a "show us the data then!" punch. I've had a good scour of the Internet prior to our conversation, and become quite alarmed, having learned that this equation is actually a meaningless ruse, cooked-up to enable a travel firm to sell holidays- the word is that the same chap who created the equation also created a 'happiest day' equation for an ice cream company.

But why is the media so hooked on a patent PR whim, and why do they trumpet it every third Monday of January? Actually, at the time of writing this, I've noticed that two national newspapers have made it the second Monday this year.


The professor advises me that newsrooms aren't public services. Maybe the BBC's are, but they probably have to compete for ratings to warrant the license fee. If a newsroom is approached by a PR firm with a novel conceit, like a most depressing day of the year, backed up by an equation, associated with a university, it's the sort of thing an editor might grab, a fresh means of flogging papers or enticing viewers.

When I add a "but it's just plain dishonest!" he comments how our media are not under any obligation to be accurate, unless they are writing or broadcasting about a person; only then do they have to ensure that they have their facts straight- for reasons of litigation. I protest that surely the purely commercial origins would have undermined the story's credibility by now? He counters that it will be a good story until the story of it not being true becomes a better story. Gosh!

When I decided to investigate this date, that has blighted our January(s) since 2005, I should have contacted the professor straight away; instead I invited my social networking contacts with journals or diaries to share their entries with me. Interestingly, I'd consulted a website that either had its facts wrong, or like me had been misled, so I inquired about the incorrect date and received a sufficiently despondent haul of replies to lure me dangerously close to the edge of gullibility. However, I had another Google scour and found an article by another lively and annoyed fellow- with an affiliation to the alleged Blue Monday University- remonstrating on the deplorable pseudoscientific tosh behind the date. But whereas I'd come to believe that Blue Monday was the Monday that heralded the final full week of the month, this exasperated chap was referring to the third Monday. So I transmitted a perplexed tweet to him and he tweeted back, "I've always read/been told that it's the 3rd Monday in January. But the equation is nonsensical, so it can vary easily." Right.

I returned to my online 'research team' and apologized for getting the date wrong. Afterwards, the diary entries forwarded to me reported a mixture of average, spiritual, romantic or devastating days. It saddened me to read of Camilla's worst ever January: her mother had passed away in recent months, and at work she'd been instructed to keep the imminent redundancies of her friends and colleagues secret. Andrew was still distressed by his partner's early retirement due to bullying, and the subsequent constant togetherness that had altered their relationship dynamic. John, spiritual as ever, wrote a prayer that day, while Julian had a day off from panto, rehearsing for a play, Gerbils in a Glass Cage, in Mudchute. Fern went to the gym, played squash, watched TV, and read a book. Maco spent the day in bed with a headache and worried about his intended trip to Miami; it didn't go as well as hoped, but that was a week later. Over all, nothing conclusive. Just another day.

As I pursued Blue Monday it dissolved into nothing. All that remained was the pulsating groove of a great New Order record. But surely the expression is older than 1983? Enter Bill, the Belsize oracle who suggested I consult Here, my search reached 1950s New Orleans- Blues refugee country- and Blue Monday, Dave Bartholomew's splendid rhythm and blues paean to working week drudgery, popularized by Smiley Lewis and Fats Domino.

Now that's what I call a compelling equation.