Today is considered to be “Blue Monday,” but we’re here to explain why this isn’t an actual awareness day and highlight the truth about how our mood is affected this time of year. The Canadian Mental Health Association strives to reduce the stigma towards mental health and mental illness through education on the realities of these topics.
First – what is Blue Monday? Well, it really seems like it depends on who you ask. Traditionally said to be on the third Monday in January, and is said to be “the most depressing day of the year.” Some people also say that it’s the day in the year when most people die by suicide but rates of suicide are fairly consistent throughout the year and do increase slightly at certain points in the year but it’s during the spring and summer that we see the most completed suicides, not in January. In a research study done at the University of California Riverside in 2000, they found that “suicides are more likely to occur in the summer and spring” and less likely during the winter months1.
Where did this concept come from? Blue Monday has only been around since about 2005. It was developed by Cliff Arnall, “Psychologist, Trainer, Lecturer and Coach. Specialising in well-being, confidence and happiness,”2. He was hired by a travel company to study when people book holidays and general vacation trends throughout the year. To do this he developed a formula that he said told us what the most depressing day of the year was. Sounds okay so far, right? Here’s where it gets a bit tricky. Arnall didn’t use an approach that was based on real science. He did create a formula so it looks a lot like science (what we call this “pseudoscience”) but his work wasn’t done using a scientific approach. The formula he developed included things like weather conditions, debt level, time since Christmas, time since failing new years resolutions, time spent relaxing, stress level, and motivational level3.
Why does it matter that this isn’t a real phenomenon? Usually when there’s a day promoting mental health and wellness, the CMHA of NB is excited to participate and support the initiative that will bring awareness to mental health and mental illnesses. The problem with Blue Monday is that it isn’t based on science and is a made up phenomenon that likely does more harm than good. Let’s take a closer look:
Creates a day where people are paying more attention to their mental health
Does line up with the trend of experiencing seasonal mood lows during the winter months
Like we said before, it isn’t based on science and was made up in order to increase travel sales in January. There also hasn’t been any research done that supports the Blue Monday phenomenon since it was created!
Downplays how serious Seasonal Affective Disorder and even less extreme cases of seasonal shifts in mood by making it seem like everyone is going through the same thing.
Most importantly, if you aren’t feeling “depressed” on “the most depressing day of the year” then you might feel like you missed something, that you should be feeling worse than you are. You start feeling worse because you feel like you’re supposed to be.
So, what’s the truth?
Are there seasonal changes in mood? Absolutely. These changes can be tracked throughout the year and affect most people in the same way. During the winter months we usually see people with the “winter blues” or feeling more drained than normal. This can even turn into a diagnosable mental illness called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) if a pattern of experiencing symptoms of depression occurs during the winter months.
I’m feeling a bit down, does that mean I have SAD? No, not necessarily. If you’re concerned about your mental health we always encourage people to reach out and seek help from their family doctor or a mental health professional. Shifts in mood that begin in the winter and ease up in the spring are normal but how much a person’s mood shifts during this time is different for everyone4. SAD involves a pattern of major depressive episodes that have a big impact on the individual’s ability to go about their everyday activities and impacts their life in many ways (i.e. chronic fatigue, increased appetite and changes in weight, loss of interest in your favourite activities)4. For more information about SAD including detailed symptoms and treatment option please follow this link https://goo.gl/sijxSX.
Now what? Let’s take a minute to remember that everyone has mental health, in the same way that they have physical health. Mental health can slide up and down a continuum between good mental health and poor mental health and there are a variety of factors that play into how mentally well you are. These factors are different for everyone but there are factors that affect people similarly. Things like going for a walk in nature often have positive impacts on our mental health while other things have negative impacts on our mental health, one of these things being the time of year. Think about it – the weather is unpredictable leaving it difficult to commit to leisure activities, the cold air and icy conditions discourage many people from participating in outside activities, and (most of all) we aren’t getting as much sunlight and this negatively affects our mental health. We all have an internal clock inside of us and not having as much exposure to sunlight throws the clock off and even affects the chemicals in our brain, which can lead to a decrease in mood.
Since we know now that there are these seasonal changes in mood, what can we do about it? Spend more time outside! We know that one of the causes of the seasonal changes in mood is not getting enough sunlight, so making a point of braving the cold and going outside for a walk can make a big difference. Light therapy is also a common form of treatment that is used to offset seasonal impacts on mood. Self-care is also very important. Take time for the things you enjoy and be kind to yourself by making your own self-care a priority.
We hope that this blog post helps debunk the myth of Blue Monday! If you have further questions or want to learn more about programs available in your area please contact your local CMHA of NB office.
- Kposowa, A. & D’Auria, S. (2009). Association of temporal factors and suicides in the United States. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 45, 433-445. doi: 10.1007/s00127-009-0082-9
- Young, M., Reardon, A., Azam, R. (2008). Rumination and Vegetative Symptoms: A Test of the Dual Vulnerability Model of Seasonal Depression. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32, 567-576. doi: 10.1007/s10608-008-9184-z
This post is also available in: Français (French)