LIFESTYLE
21/01/2019 06:00 GMT | Updated 21/01/2019 11:13 GMT

Blue Monday Is 'Unscientific' And 'Trivialises' Mental Illness, Warn Experts

But there is one positive in a sea of negatives...

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 has 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.

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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 21 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 recently 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, 13 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,” adds Peters.

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. 

“Stigma surrounding mental health is decreasing, thanks in part to movements like Time to Change,” he says. “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.)
  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: help@themix.org.uk
  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.