Posted by Michelle Morgan on


Just over a decade ago, I discovered ‘Blue Monday’. Due to its name being a clear example of ‘says what it is on the tin’ and it being January, I immediately ‘got it’, and honestly? I liked it, it felt unifying, a moment and feeling we all shared.

I was wrong.

At Livity, the youth agency and network I co-founded in 2001, we used to gather together on a Monday morning for the affectionately, if not imaginatively, known ‘To Do’ meeting – we tried some creative renaming, but ‘To Do’ stuck – another ‘says what it is on the tin’ I guess! One particular new year, in To Do, we discussed the relatively new notion of 'Blue Monday', with some nods and recognition rippling throughout the conversation, unannounced, I stood up and walked around the room handing out a £10 note to everyone in the meeting, to lessen the pain of ‘The most depressing day of the year’ that 'Blue Monday' represents. It was a fun moment, sparking a bit of joy at the start of the week.

Years later, once I was firmly positioned at the centre of my new mission in life –making mental health an everyday conversation – I had become far more aware of the power and impact of language. We teach in Mental Health First Aid training, that the inaccurate use of language drives stigma when it comes to talking about our mental health, especially if we want to have a conversation about poor mental health, and stigma is what contributes to feelings of awkwardness and feelings of awkwardness are what stop us from actually having the conversation… the one where I’m either going to ask you about your mental health, or tell you about mine.

So, back to Blue Monday, what is it then? Well, I’m afraid to say, it’s a marketing and PR campaign. The concept was first communicated in 2005, through a UK travel company’s PR agency, the brand claimed to have worked with a university tutor to calculate the date of the most depressing day of the year – typically, they said, the third Monday of the month of January – using a formula consisting of many factors, including: weather conditions, debt levels, time since Christmas, time since new year’s resolutions have been broken, low motivational levels, and the feeling of a need to take action - Book a holiday!!

Some of it chimes I guess, but for us all? And on the same day? Supposedly, scientists have dismissed the idea as pseudoscience.

I have seen a good couple of handfuls of references to 'Blue Monday' over the last week, promotional emails linked to wellbeing products that will help make 'Blue Monday' less ‘depressing’, social posts and newsletter mentions. It's a good 'hook' - clearly (she wrote, having at least the self-awareness to understand she is using it as her own hook to impart her views on the world!). The message I’d like to share today, is that whilst yes, we ALL have mental health, we are ALL vulnerable to the ups and downs of life and to developing poor mental health and some of us will experience a mental illness, that may or may not have been diagnosed by a mental health professional, NONE of us can predict with 100% accuracy when those challenges might occur. We will never, all of us, on the same day, feel down, and certainly we won't all be depressed.

Let's talk about depression for a moment. Depression can be mild, moderate, or severe and it is an illness diagnosed by a medical or mental health professional, (and definitely not PR Agencies). In its mildest form it can mean feeling and being in low spirits, where it might not stop you leading your normal life, but it makes things more difficult to do and less worthwhile. At its most severe, it can be life threatening, because it can make you feel suicidal. Depression is not a one day, one-off occurrence.

***If you have been experiencing low mood for a couple of weeks or more, do have a conversation with someone you trust about how you are feeling.***

You see, depression doesn’t arrive by appointment or become ‘worse’ on one convenient and particular day called 'Blue Monday' in January. Even if that ‘formula’ has some common strands that might contribute to low spirits and mood, and yes, perhaps depression, not ALL of us are going to find Monday 17th January 2022 a difficult day.

There’s a risk that the language, positioning and spotlighting of this day are at best, a bit of a thoughtless and salesy quick win and at worst, deeply stigmatizing, unhelpful and offensive to those who have previously, or are currently, experiencing difficulties with their mental health – and what about those in the future… “but it's March 12th, did I get the wrong day to feel down?”. Yes, January can be tough, winter can be tough, and especially right now, nearly 2 years into the pandemic, life is tough, mentally, physically, financially, spiritually, emotionally etc. etc. … for many people, but not all. And how about June, July and August – purely happy months, perhaps the happiest? For many, yes. But not always and not all.

We are all different, we’ll all experience the highs, lows and the plain good and not so good experience of life and living, so, let’s try not to bunch every one of us together, having the same difficult feelings on the same day, every January, and let’s not suggest that it’s ‘the most depressing day of the year’ either. Because such a thing doesn’t exist. Can’t exist.

Sharing the tale of ‘Blue Monday’ is not about finger pointing, after all, I made a right old big ‘occasion’ out of if all those years ago! And look, if you want to book a holiday today - do it! For me though, 'Blue Monday' is simply an opportunity to bust another mental health myth, and I hope, share some information or food for thought, that might be useful along the way. If using ‘Blue Monday’ and its true story and origins as a conversation starter for talking about mental health and our wellbeing feels useful today– go for it, just ‘keep it real’ as they say. It’s great to have ‘days’, ‘weeks’ and even ‘months’ that raise awareness for important issues, as long as they’re not one offs or box ticking exercises, and they have a sense of authenticity and substance to them, I’d like suggest that next year though, 'Blue Monday' shouldn’t really one of them. It’s baloney, it’s BS – so let’s give it the boot.

Michelle Morgan 

Author: Own Your Awkward: How to have better and braver conversations about our mental health 
Ambassador: MHFA England
Founder: Pjoys - PJs with purpose.

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