Blue Monday: Sorting the fad from the facts

What is Blue Monday? If you feel sad every January, does that mean you have depression? Here’s how to wade through the bad ads and find the resources you need.


Finished taking down the Christmas lights? File it under ‘shopping for jeans’ in the Miserable Activity category. When the adverts have turned from a cosy ‘indulge yourself’ to a slightly more judgemental ‘better yourself’, what else could we possibly feel but a little sad?

But no, advertisers decided we need a catchphrase for it: Blue Monday.

Where did Blue Monday come from?

The concept of Blue Monday was created by psychologist Cliff Arnall in 2004 as part of a travel advertising campaign. He devised a formula incorporating various factors, including the length of time to payday and poor weather conditions, to label the third Monday in January as the most depressing day of the year.

Who better to inform us of the intricacies of coping with depression than a company trying to sell us something? The concept was rightfully rubbished and declared pseudoscientific by many, and Arnall himself even apologised for the negative connotations stirred up by the campaign – but that didn’t stop other organisations jumping on the Blue Monday bandwagon to capitalise on people’s post-Christmas melancholy.

Of course, this is not the first time a company has conjured a fad out of thin air as a way to flog its wares. Brands are notorious for creating unfounded and often misleading ‘facts’ to create their unique selling point. One prime example is the notion that you should walk 10,000 steps a day, which was derived from a 1965 marketing campaign. The Japanese symbol for 10,000 just happens to look like a person walking – ideal brand recognition for a Japanese company selling a personal fitness pedometer, no?

These marketing tactics are also rife in the beauty world, where catchy phrases such as ‘hip dips’ are coined to fabricate fresh insecurities and sell products or services to get rid of a problem you never even knew existed.

Signs of depression to watch out for

As Dr Harry Barry points out, Blue Monday can also be a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. If someone tells you it’s the most depressing day of the year, then the seed has been planted in your brain that you should be feeling bad. Oh, it’s a full moon tonight? Well, that explains everything!

The worst thing about it, however, is its trivialisation of actual depression. By declaring that ‘we all feel blue right now’ and offering the antidote, advertisers are implying that depression is something you can snap out of and even cure completely with a low-cost flight.

If you feel sad sometimes, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have depression. On the other hand, you shouldn’t tell yourself that depression is only for people who feel suicidal or are dealing with grief. You don’t need something awful to happen to you to justify feeling depressed – it can happen to anyone, at any time.

Mayo Clinic notes that clinical depression has a wide range of symptoms, with some lesser-known ones including:

  • Loss of (or major increase in) appetite

  • Unexplained headaches or other body pain

  • Major changes in sleep patterns, including insomnia and oversleeping

  • Difficulties with concentration or memory

If your symptoms only occur in the winter months, you could be experiencing seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression that recurs in a seasonal pattern. Also known as SAD, symptoms typically begin in the autumn or winter and improve in the spring.

What to do next

If you are feeling the symptoms of depression, the first step should be to reach out to a friend, family member or your GP. If you don’t feel like talking about it in person yet, you can check out the HSE’s list of mental health supports and services, which includes online options, or BetterHelp, which offers 100 percent online services.

Depression can be scary but try not to view it as a massive obstacle to overcome – just take it one step at a time.

Shelly Madden
Shelly is an experienced writer, editor, content manager and Wordler who has covered everything from tech to tiny woodland creatures. Based in Galway, her hobbies include sea swimming, crosswords and agonising over whether or not to use a hyphen.

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