January 18, 2016 3:36 pm
Updated: January 18, 2016 3:45 pm

Blue Monday: How a PR stunt created the ‘most depressing’ day of the year

WATCH ABOVE: Mara Grunau, with the Calgary Centre for Suicide Prevention, talks Blue Monday myths

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If you’ve got a case of the Monday blues don’t blame it on “the most depressing day of the year,” a debunked theory that experts warn could trivialize clinical depression and other mental health issues.

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The third Monday of January or “Blue Monday” has been around since 2005 when the now defunct Sky Travel holiday agency, based in the U.K., commissioned a former lecturer at Cardiff University to find the most depressing day of the year as a way to market winter vacations.

Cliff Arnall, part-time tutor at the university, developed a “mathematical formula” to find the most depressing day of the year by combining weather, debt, time since Christmas, motivation levels, the time since New Year’s resolutions were made and the need to take action.

What he allegedly found was the third Monday is the worst day of the year because your Christmas spirit has worn off, you’ve failed to keep your New Year’s resolutions, your credit card statements from holiday shopping are due and the weather is cold.

WATCH: What is ‘Blue Monday’?

The science behind the idea was immediately refuted by researchers looking to dispel the myth behind the public relations stunt.

Scott Patten, a psychiatrist and professor with the department of psychiatry at the University of Calgary, calls it “exploitive” pseudoscience.

“The formula itself is completely nonsensical,” Patten said. “If you’re used to working with formulas you would recognize that it subtracts and measures things that are not measured on the same scale or don’t have any units. It’s not clear how you subtract debt from weather.

Mental health experts have warned that the myth surrounding the so-called “most depressing day of the year” can be detrimental  to discussing real issues around mental health.

“There is a difference between the days when you don’t want to do anything compared to clinical depression where you can’t get out bed and you’re really struggling,” said Tana Nash, executive director Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

“We never want to trivialize how somebody is really feeling with clinical depression or to make light of it,” she said. “We are doing so much work about breaking down the stigma of [mental health] and doing a really great job of it and so we don’t want to go backwards with the progress we’ve created.”

WATCH: Beating the winter blues

Mara Grunau, with Calgary’s Centre for Suicide Prevention, agrees.

“When we talk about depression, clinical depression or a major depressive disorder, people facing that face that all the time,” Grunau told Global News.  “It’s not something that can be cured with a new pair of shoes or a sunny holiday.”

While Blue Monday is the stuff of fiction, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression related to the changes in seasons according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).

CMHA says some people “are vulnerable to a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. For them, the shortening days of late autumn are the beginning of a type of clinical depression that can last until spring.” Sunnybrook hospital in Toronto says light therapy is one of the most effective treatments for SAD and help with “winter blues” as well.

The city of Winnipeg is working with the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba and has installed light therapy lamps at libraries across the city to help combat SAD symptoms.

*With a file from Carolyn Kury de Castillo

© 2016 Shaw Media

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