News Analysis

Sunday 31 August 2014

Claire O’Mahony: Today's the most depressing day of the year? It just doesn't add up

Published 21/01/2013 | 17:00

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SO HERE you are on the first day of the third week in January. The weather is grim. Likely you have a string of failed new year resolutions behind you. You're probably a bit lardy. You have an entire working week ahead of you. You may not have received your January pay yet. If you have been paid, it's gone on the heating bill and the credit card. The detox is bringing you out in spots and you'd murder for a drink.

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In short, 2013 may not be turning out to be the grand adventure you thought it was going to be as you popped a cork at midnight 21 days ago and thought to yourself: "Whey-hey! This is it! This is the year that it's all going to happen for me."

But you know you'll muddle through today. This is what January is, and you deal with it. Or at least, you'd try not to wallow in the misery were you not being told that today is Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. Fact.

Except it's nothing of the sort.

The Blue Monday concept is based on a dubious mathematical formula taking unquantifiable variables such as weather, debt and low motivation into account. It's absolute pseudoscience and was part of a press release issued by a company called Sky Travel who were trying to flog holidays to the downtrodden, unhappy masses.

Bad Science columnist Ben Goldacre of 'The Guardian' first alerted us to this in 2006 when investigating the equation. He pointed out that it failed to even make mathematical sense on its own terms.

The devisor of the equation, a Dr Cliff Arnall, has admitted it's meaningless. Dr Arnall, incidentally, also turned up in a Wall's ice cream press release with a formula for the happiest day of the year, which turned out to be in the peak month for ice cream sales, June.

But why let a bogus mathematical equation get in the way of a good soundbite?

Because every year, even though we know it originated as part of a marketing campaign, Blue Monday raises its unpleasant head once again, usually alongside cheery suggestions as to how to get over it, like taking some exercise. Or doing something nice for someone else. Or baking a cake. Or booking a holiday in the sun.

The best thing to do on Blue Monday is simply ignore it – don't entertain it.

Being told that today is the most depressing day of the year is about as helpful as someone telling you you look tired – it's something you already suspected, but once it's actually verbalised you begin to dwell on it and start to think: "Now that you mention it, I really am very tired/depressed."

What's actually going to follow Blue Monday? Slightly Better Tuesday? Given its commercial antecedents, it's surprising that this day hasn't kick-started a mini-industry, with people sending each other Blue Monday cards that read: "Cheer up! It's already happening." Then again, with Valentine's Day gifts already populating shop shelves, we arguably have enough Hallmark holidays to contend with.

There's also the issue that by facetiously painting today as the most depressing day of the year, it trivialises the serious issue of real depression.

Being broke and carrying some holiday weight is a far remove from clinical depression. If Blue Monday can be consider-ed in any way beneficial at all, it is that some mental health charities, skipping over the pseudoscience bit, have embraced it as their own as a means of raising awareness of depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Mental Health Research UK is piggybacking on the day to raise money for research into treatments and is asking people to dress in colourful clothing to highlight the plight of those who suffer from the conditions.

So the Blue Monday notion is not all bad, but in the main not very good.

If you insist on subscribing to today being the most depressing day of the year, the fabulous news is that tomorrow it will all be over.

For those of us who are resigned to the fact that January is just the dreariest of months, we can accept that tomorrow is probably going to be a lot like today. But we may take some sneaky solace from remembering that February 10, the Chinese New Year, isn't so far off, and maybe then we'll feel a bit more gung-ho and look to making a fresh start again.

Irish Independent

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