Blue Monday 2021: what is it, why is it today – and the meaning behind the most depressing day of the year
Blue Monday shines an important light on mental health issues – but experts dispute the science behind it
Monday 18 January marks ‘Blue Monday’, the most depressing day of the year.
It’s the day when the financial pressure of the Christmas just passed hangs over us most, the weather is at its worst, and the extra pounds we’ve acquired over the holiday season are proving harder to shift than we anticipated.
But is the idea rooted in science, and where did it first come from?
Here’s everything you need to know:
When is Blue Monday?
Blue Monday usually falls on the third Monday of every New Year, and is considered the most “depressing” day on the calendar. In 2021, that’s 18 January.
But as you'll see, it’s not always reported as being on that date.
Is it real?
Despite its widespread acceptance among the British public, there is no scientific evidence to suggest the third Monday of the year is any more or less depressing than any other day.
In fact, the birth of the idea is shrouded in controversy, and despite usually falling on the third Monday of the year, some outlets report the date as being on the second or fourth Monday of January.
Where did Blue Monday come from?
The concept of ‘Blue Monday’ appears to have originated in 2005, in a press release from now defunct holiday company and TV channel Sky Travel, who claimed to have used an equation to calculate the date.
That original press release appeared to have been written by Cliff Arnall, a tutor at Cardiff University’s Centre for Lifelong Learning.
But Guardian writer Ben Goldacre – known for his Bad Science column and series of books – revealed that the press release was sent pre-written by a PR company to a number of academics, who were offered money to put their name to it.
"I know that because I have received an avalanche of insider stories… including one from an academic in psychology who was offered money by Porter Novelli PR agency to put his name to the very same Sky Travel equation story that Arnall sold his to," he said.
How is Blue Monday ‘calculated’?
The release claimed Blue Monday was reached by “taking into account various factors” such as average temperature, days since the last pay day, days until the next bank holiday, average hours of daylight, and the number of nights in during the month.
The release claimed the formula that gives us Blue Monday is C(P+B) N+D, an equation which “allows us to work out the day with the highest 'depression factor' which you can then use as a focus for making things better, booking your holiday etc...”
It doesn't take much effort to see the true purpose of Sky Travel's press release – selling more holidays – and Goldacre said “these equations are scientifically uninformative, and driven by money.”
According to Dr Dean Burnett, a tutor at Cardiff University’s division of psychological medicine and clinical neurosciences, “there are so many reasons to believe [the Blue Monday equation is] nonsense.
“Firstly, the equation wasn’t the result of some psychological study by a reputable lab, but conducted by a travel company, who then fished around for a psychologist to put his name to it, to make it seem credible.
“It combines things that have no quantifiable way of being combined. Debt level, time since Christmas, weather, motivation – the equation combines all these things, but that’s not possible.”
Despite lending his name to the concept, Arnall himself now campaigns against the idea of Blue Monday via his Twitter account.
Why is Blue Monday still a thing?
Over 15 years on, despite its pseudo scientific origins, Blue Monday still trends on social media every year.
That's mainly down to the PR industry, who use Blue Monday as a chance to push their products, whether they be wellbeing products, fitness items, or other self-improvement and happiness boosting tools.
But a lot of good has come of the date too.
In 2020, Samaritans handed out cups of tea at Edinburgh’s Waverley station to help morning commuters get through the day, encouraging them to share a cup of tea with someone in their office who may be feeling lonely.
The charity is pushing for it to become known as ‘Brew Monday’, a day when connecting with others over a cuppa can help weather the ups and downs of life.
“All you need is a kettle and some mugs, and this could make a huge difference in someone’s life,” they say.
So whether it’s all a load of nonsense or not, Blue Monday at least shines a spotlight on loneliness, and gets people talking about depression, even if only fleetingly.
At a time when it’s more important than ever to reach out, that can only be a good thing.