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Just a blue Monday? Or not?

A commuter waiting for a train alone

Blue Monday; it’s supposedly the most depressing day of the year. The name is typically given to the third Monday in January - and it’s not surprising that many people feel a little gloomy around that time.

After all, the holidays are over and what remains is a long grey and cold winter. Moreover, all good intentions that you had for the new year are sometimes failing already. And after the expensive month of December, the state of your finances might not be particularly cheerful either. But what is Blue Monday all about, then? And why do we pay attention to it?

Cliff Arnall: the 'father' of Blue Monday

According to British Psychologist Cliff Arnall, the Monday of the last full week of January is the day when most people feel sad and depressed. In 2005 he devised a formula that would prove this statement. The formula contains variables such as the weather, a person's salary, the time that has elapsed since Christmas, the number of days that someone has good intentions, etc.

Arnall received a lot of criticism of his formula, and we can’t say ‘Blue Monday’ is a clinical term, but still, more than a decade later, many media and businesses do pay a lot of attention to it. Radio stations make playlists to give you a 'musical boost'. And many websites give you tips to get rid of your gloomy mood (including, how coincidentally, many travel organisations that motivate you to book your holiday).

Just a bit gloomy? Or is it more?

Everybody suffers from a dip or low mood from time to time. But if those gloomy feelings last longer than two weeks, there is probably more to it. Long-term depressed feelings or thoughts may indicate depression. Depression often manifests itself differently, and the symptoms can vary from person to person.

We feel therefore that Blue Monday is not only a good opportunity to long for the summer, but also a chance to talk about depression and depressive thoughts. Because openness about depression is not self-evident.

What can you do?

First of all, make gloominess and depression a conversation topic. At this time of the year, ‘Blue Monday’ provides you with a great excuse to talk about sadness and negative thoughts with someone.

Ask yourself, am I just feeling low? Or is something else causing this? And if you know you’re alright, please do take the opportunity to ask people around you. Especially the people you might think be struggling. Ask for example: ‘Hey, Blue Monday is coming up. Do you feel it? Are you okay?’ And don’t be afraid to ask twice – often vulnerable people may need more than one prompt before they will feel comfortable enough to open up.

If someone has the courage to open up to you, don’t feel pressure to come up with a solution for them. Just be there for them and listen to their story – sharing their feelings will be a weight off of their shoulders, but that doesn’t mean that you should feel as though they’re passing that weight to you. You can offer your advice where you feel appropriate, but being there for them and listening is the main thing.

Why is it important?

Because prevention is better than therapy, and it’s always better to take action in an earlier stage, to avoid people going through a deep depression.

So whether Blue Monday actually exists or not, depression certainly does. But we can do something about it. So talk about it, listen, and be open. Hopefully this will lead to an earlier identification of (lurking) depression. And, if you need to, go ahead and complain about the weather, traffic jams and your in-laws. It’s Blue Monday, today you’re allowed.

Follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #BlueMonday