Blue Monday 2020: when in January it falls and why it's supposedly the most depressing day of the year

The legitimacy of 'Blue Monday' is often questioned (Photo: Shutterstock)
The legitimacy of 'Blue Monday' is often questioned (Photo: Shutterstock)
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Blue Monday, allegedly the most depressing day of the year, falls this month.

As well as being the name of one of New Order’s biggest hits from the 1980s, Blue Monday has become known as the single most depressing day of the year. But is it really?

Here is everything you need to know about the controversial concept.

When is Blue Monday?

Blue Monday is generally thought to be the third Monday in January each year.

In 2020, that means Monday 20 January will be the fateful date.

What’s the history of Blue Monday?

Blue Monday was first referenced in a press release by Sky Travel in 2005. 

The company, eager to calculate when people tend to book their holidays, commissioned Dr Cliff Arnal, a British psychologist, to create a formula to do just that.

Arnal claimed that his formula, which supposedly pinpointed the most depressing time of the year, could predict when people would book trips to sunny, happy, holiday destinations.

His theory took into account seasonal weather, the time that had elapsed since Christmas, levels of personal debt, and monthly income.

Adding all those factors together, Arnal argued that the third Monday in January was the most depressing day of the year - and therefore the day when high numbers of people would book their tropical escapes.

In 2007 Arnal also claimed that he had used his formula to pinpoint the happiest day of the year, which, he said, usually falls around June 20. 

His formula was picked up by media outlets around the world, and the term Blue Monday was coined.

How does the formula work?

Arnal’s equation contains seven variables, including: 

(W) weather

(D) debt

(d) monthly salary

(T) time since Christmas

(Q) time since failed quit attempt

(M) low motivational levels

(NA) the need to take action

By assigning these variables a numerical value, Arnal claimed he pinpointed the third Monday in January as the most depressing day in the calendar.

Fact or fiction?

Unfortunately for Dr Arnal (but fortunately for all of us), his formula has been debunked by fellow psychologists, and roundly mocked by many in the scientific community.

They pointed out that with no explanation as to how the formula assigns numerical values to factors like “weather”, his prediction is meaningless.

Physician and science writer Ben Goldacre argued that the equations “fail even to make mathematical sense on their own terms,” and accused Arnal of peddling fake science to promote the travel company in the news.

Which day is most depressing?

Despite widespread criticism of the Blue Monday concept, the term has stayed in the popular imagination, years after Arnal’s initial announcement. 

Dean Burnett, a neuroscientist at Cardiff University, labelled Arnal’s work “farcical” in an article in the Guardian.

He wrote, “Every third Monday in January is now Blue Monday, according to the mainstream media. 

“Granted, some say the second Monday, or the fourth. It makes no difference, each one is just as likely to be the most depressing day of the year.

“You could pick the first Thursday in August if you like, it’s just as valid. Or the ninth Saturday in Smarch, [it] doesn’t matter.”

Burnett argued that even well-meaning references to the date were misguided, and that “making an extra effort to be supportive of people with depression on ‘Blue Monday’ is like being more considerate of diabetics because Jupiter is rising in Virgo.”

He concluded that Dr Arnal had badly misled the public, and said Blue Monday was “complete corporate-sponsored gibberish”.

In 2018, Dr Arnal partnered with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays, to dispel “myths” around Blue Monday, despite heavy criticism. In an interview with The Independent, Arnal said it had never been his intention to characterise January as a depressing month.

Speaking in 2018, Arnal said “Whether embarking on a new career, meeting new friends, taking up a new hobby or booking a new adventure, January is actually a great time to make those big decisions for the year ahead.”