That "Most Depressing Day Myth"

The so-called ‘official’ day for feeling bad.

A week ago on Monday 18 January 2011 it was ‘Blue Monday’, reputedly the most depressing day of the year, or so we’re told. Mind you, it could have been last Monday (25th) – no-one seems quite sure.

(By the way, this was written in 2011 – but not a lot has changed – much of the UK media still drags it out and dusts it off every January – and the tradition continues in January 2023 with the UK’s BBC and Irish RTE – check Google for “most depressing day of the year 2023”.

As it happens I slipped up and forgot about both dates. On 18th I was busy exploring great things on the final week of our NLP Master Practitioner Certification Programme and clean forgot to do my bit by being miserable and supporting this new National Institution. And last Monday it just slipped my mind even though, along with their 6 million other listeners, I’d heard about it mid-week on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme.

Never mind, there’s always next year.

Critical thinking

Now, although NLP is rightly known for its huge range of practical techniques for changing moods and communicating effectively, it should also be famed for its ability to provide us with the tools for critical thinking; tools like the Meta Model, the Milton Model, the various methods of Reframing, and so on.  

In fact, rather than seeing NLP is a series of disconnected tools and techniques, NLP could more appropriately be seen as an attitude to living, thinking, and communicating.

So, to many NLPers having a day appointed by the new media as “the most depressing day of the year” is a bit of a challenge to their critical thinking.

And not just to NLP users, either. And their response is along the lines: “Hold on…

 – Which officials have announced thisto be a special day?

 – When did they announce it?

 – On what basis have they made this pronouncement?

 – Is it backed by evidence or practise?

 – Is it just this Monday or can we be depressed for the whole week?

 – Did all of the pundits agree?

 – Is it true for everyone?”

Who says so?

These were questions which also occurred to me when I heard about it on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme – which has 6,000,000 listeners.

So, as you do, I checked it on Google. And, true enough, a few minutes’ searching indicated that the “most depressing day” fact was being quoted very widely by UK national newspapers including the Daily Express, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, The Independent, and The Guardian.

It was also quoted by the BBC website and even by the Church of England. Even a mental health charity has supported the myth:  (By the way, you won’t find it – they have since done some critical thinking – and removed the article…)

Well, how can you argue with that!

Surely if so many eminent sources quote it as a fact then it must be true, mustn’t it…?

The Myth

The first clue that things weren’t quite as official as we were being led to believe came from this Wikipedia article. Then I came across comments from Ben Goldacre – the Guardian’s Bad Science columnist and one of my favourite myth-busters (these comments, too, have now disappeared, though).

The story

Helped by dedicated journalists and PR people, the 2nd or the 3rd or the 4th Monday in January has now become virtually the unchallengeable and official Most Depressing Day of the Year.

Or so it seems.

And it all started back in late 2004 as a way of getting people to book their summer holidays – courtesy of a PR company, a former part-time university tutor, a not-very-sizeable cheque, and a company called Sky Travel. (Have a look at some of the links below to get some background to this silly urban myth. And this related article in The Times Higher Educational gives interesting insight into how the PR scheme/scam works.)

A myth is born

So here we are. In our own lifetimes and before our very eyes we can see how lazy journalists give credibility and momentum to a myth.

Why? Because they get paid for submitting sloppy copy on a no-questions-asked basis to lazy and over-rushed editors.

Their customers are unimportant – all that matters is filling the column inches and selling the stuff.

‘Get your facts right’?

But surely no-one publishes material without checking their facts?

Well, yes, that used to be a fundamental tenet of journalism, Nowadays news happens fast and providing it has become quite cut-throat.

Newspapers are losing out to the more immediate mediums such as the internet and radio and TV. So it appears that newspaper editors, especially but not exclusively, can’t afford to be fussy – and, for the most part, the public doesn’t really care.

Most are more interested in entertainment rather than news – otherwise how can we account for the success of the tabloids?

So what?

News affects moods. And financial markets. And interest rates. And politics. And legislators. And public opinion. And voting preferences.

Journalists used to claim that they’re just reporting the facts. Nowadays. the question might be are they reporting the facts or creating them?

We suffer unless we think, and challenge, and question what we listen to or watch or read. The age of the reliable news medium is past, if it ever existed; all the more reason to sharpen our critical evaluation of whatever news media we expose ourselves to – with or without the critical thinking skills and insights of NLP.

And, perhaps, it’s useful to bear in mind that the news with which we are supplied will always be the individual and subjective evaluation of the reporter and the news editor.

So we need to check the motivation behind the action – the likely purpose behind the behaviour of the journalists and their editors – and proprietors.

Check out our other article The Repeated Lie is Believed.

First published 26 January 2011. Revised January 2023

Related articles

(Some links have now been removed. Probably through embarrassment??) (March 2006) (March 2008) (August 2008) (November 2008)  (January 2009)  (September 2009) (January 2011)

And if you’d like to see the Most Depressing Day myth in action:

The Daily Mail – well, it’s the Daily Mail, so at least one article every January!

The Daily Express


The Daily Mirror

The Independent

The Guardian – though they nowadays have a different view

The Church of England

The Telegraph

The Metro (London free paper)

The Sun (at 3 million it’s the UK’s biggest selling newspaper) (They’re since removed the link.)

Oh, and then there’s Sky News in 2006 –  Sky News in 2007 – Sky News in 2008Sky News in 2009 – but none since then, it seems

4 thoughts on “That “Blue Monday” myth… or lie”

  1. So true Reg! It was only tonight I decided to turn off the news based on the ‘lets talk ourselves into another economic dip’ report /debate. Repeating words of ‘panic, hard, struggle, downturn’ and on, and on….. And then guess what? hey presto, it happens! What was is Reg? The end of the world is nigh… or is it??

    What Happened to the flu epidemic? or the Floods in Australia? Good old media…. bad news sells!

    What a shame you forgot to comply with Blue Monday, maybe we could add another day in the week for those who forgot? 🙂

  2. Hi Reg – I enjoyed reading your post on the myth of Blue Monday. I thought that you might like to know that the story has also been picked up by some parts of the press in The Netherlands.

    There was a piece on the evening news magazine on the main TV channel (in Dutch): The reporter goes out in the streets of Amsterdam with the Blue Monday formula chalked on a small blackboard and interviews passers-by. The report also features a doctor who confirms that he sees a lot of patients with trivial ailments and a careers advice bureau who take advantage of Blue Monday to mount a publicity stunt of giving “Free Hugs” many of which are refused (memories of your recent post on “group hugs”). I’m pleased to report that the film ends with the the blackboard thrown into a pile of garbage as the reporter concludes that the myth has been refuted.

    On a more serious note your post started me thinking about why such myths are appealing and why people believe them. Is it a form of victim thinking: I’m not responsible for my state, it comes from outside of me? Or is it a culture of blame?

  3. Hi Jonny: as you’ll have seen from the other linked Newsletter and Blog articles, media hype is one of my pet hates. Not because these poor journalists have to earn a living but because of the worry and misery that their work evokes.

    And I like the @chrisspray suggestion (on Twitter) that by next year we’ll probably have “Happy Most Depressing Day” cards. Well, it would fill a gap in the speciality card market between Christmas and Valentine’s Day…

  4. Hi – Reg

    It would appear that blue Monday is victim thinking.

    It’s such a nice place for people to be, they can blame something else rather than face the fact they have a hangover and got up late etc. I have several acquaintances that are totally immersed in “victim thinking” everything that happens is not their responsibility, they can invoke “fate”, the “stars”, “my friends didn’t help me”, anything but accept the fact that they are are responsible for what is happening to them. (admittedly a difficult position to achieve).

    As for journalism, reporting etc, there are just too many people trying to be journalists. The market is difficult, so the more shocking the story the better the chance of a sale. There are many that work from home and troll the internet for stories, so their accuracy is pretty dire in the first place then they add a little spin of their own. I’ve noticed that even the Independent columnists are becoming more belligerent and derisive of every one in general.

    The other side of the coin is of course, there are many who revel in the “dark side” and like to see people pulled down, and this is what sells “Newspapers” except they are seldom “News” papers, but more “Spin” papers.

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