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Don’t Let Blue Monday Get You Down

17 01 2011

Bliue Monday coverI’ve been left in no doubt that today is the blue-est of the calendar year.  It’s in the papers, on the radio, I’ve been told on email and twitter is awash with tales of woe.

So where did this notion come from?  It’s medically proven, there is even a formula.  Well no, the truth is it was a PR stunt for a now defunct travel company that has in just a few short years seeped into our national consciousness.   The idea, I imagine was to stimulate holiday bookings just when we have the post-Christmas blues.

As PR stunts go it has been pretty effective in gaining media attention, although the brand it set out to promote has fared less well.  This evidence for the date being the most depressing day of the year was first published in 2005 in a press release for the Sky Travel Channel under the name of Cliff Arnall of Cardiff University.  Well sort of… Cliff was at the time a part-time tutor at  a Further Education centre attached to the University.  There is even a scientific formula:  ([W + (D-d)] x TQ) ÷ (M x Na)  where weather is W, D is the ability to pay, debt=d, time since Christmas=T, time since failing our new year’s resolutions is Q, motivational levels are defined as M and the feeling of a need to take action is Na.   Clearly cod science.

Over the years commentators like Petra Boynton and Dr Ben Goldacre have got hot under the collar about Blue Monday and have given a red flag to the daft mathematical formula.  It has however has morphed into a bit of media fun that we needn’t get down about.  The fact that the formula predicted that the saddest day of the year was a Monday was claimed as a coincidence by Cliff Arnall in 2005 but the Blue Monday moniker it too tempting to resist and a Monday it has been for seven consecutive years.

The appetite for the story is apparent enough; January is a gloomy month and we all want confirmation that we’ve passed the nadir and are back on the way up.  Moreover with the demise of Sky Travel it has been used on successive occasions to promote awareness of mental health issues.  That’s not such a bad thing.  So chin up, it might never happen.

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3 responses

17 01 2011
Andy Green

Here is the real story behind ‘Blue Monday’ and I hope it serves as a great exampe of what can be achieved through memes, and it’s also an idea that still has potential to fulfil valuable social goals.
I happened to be in my office on Saturday 22nd, January 2005. Reading the news on the web it featured a story about the forthcoming Monday being defined as ‘the most depressing day of the year’. The story was based on a study produced on behalf of Sky Travel which featured a formula identifying a number of significant factors – weather, debt, broken resolutions, time since the holiday period – which come together to make the Monday ‘the most depressing day of the year’.

A university academic, Cliff Arnall, (a former lecturer and researcher at Cardiff University) produced the formula. (Note: There is no mention in this story of the day being called ‘Blue Monday’)
Cliff Arnall, as it turns out, is the anti-Christ, eats babies and raw meat, and burps afterwards. Sounds silly? Yet is perhaps no sillier than some of the spleen directed at Cliff, and latterly to me, for being part of what was to become the ‘Blue Monday’ story. (If this episode was a horse race, the reference one blogger made about planting a crossbow bolt in Cliff’s forehead is still my choice for front-runner in the vitriol stakes.)

Blue Monday helped trigger my interest in the issue of science getting the reputation it deserves and prompting ideas to help address the questions about scientific illiteracy.

Looking back, I had stumbled across a potent word of mouth message – the story initially instigated by Cliff Arnall of how a particular day is apparently the most depressing day.

I have a personal interest in mental health issues. My younger brother was born profoundly autistic. I know from previous professional experience that themed days, such as Red Nose Day, and a regional event I had been involved with called ‘Yorkshire Day’ on August 1st, can be highly effective fund-raising and promotional opportunities.

My estimation is that a themed day – which I subsequently called ‘Blue Monday’ – could raise at least £500,000 a year for mental health charities. (Just 1% of what the Comic Relief ‘Red Nose’ day raises in the UK.)

So, I had at hand a vehicle able to create extensive media interest and also raise money and awareness for mental health causes. Plus, it would be a comparatively easy task to make this happen. The idea of making this campaign happen also fitted in very well with my personal interests, motivations and professional skills.

Wrong. Despite encouraging discussions and activity with two national charities related to mental health on both occasions the organizations subsequently distanced themselves from my efforts and any connection with ‘Blue Monday’.

The reason: a few influential scientists put a quiet word in behind the scenes. I was told they had suggested that the ‘Blue Monday’ story was ‘bad science’ and therefore the charities should have nothing to do with it.

I was initially angry – some good causes could raise £500,000 a year on a comparatively easy-to-do ticket – plus, for my sins, I also received a number of snide comments about me on various blogs.

I now reflect that I had stumbled into an arena of a bigger issue of what I call ‘bilateral scientific illiteracy’ – a failure by either side of the debate to fully understand the worldview of the other.

I have learnt from my personal experience, science does not have the reputation it deserves.

So, to get some value from experiences to make some contribution to making the world a better place, and so learn from my Blue Monday experience I am stiill continuing to promote Blue Monday each year and will be working on extending it further with a new campaign, ‘Blue Science’ – to tackle scientific illiteracy by getting scientists to understand the public (as opposed to ‘public understanding of science’).
Hope this is as half as successful as the Blue Monday meme camapign.

17 01 2011
BB

Any reason why it’s “Petra” and “Dr Ben Goldacre”? As far as I know they are both entitled to the title “Dr”.

18 01 2011
Rob

No reason at all, but I’m happy to acknowledge that Petra Boynton is a ‘Dr’ too.

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