If you live in the Northern hemisphere (75% of Gizmag readers do), and you’re prone to depression (20% of all people are clinically depressed at least once in their life), your outlook is quite probably headed towards its bleakest early next week - Blue Monday occurs next Monday, January 18, and is the day when a series of combined depressive effects, identified in the aforementioned equation as weather (W), debt (d), time since Christmas (T), time since failing our new year’s resolutions (Q), low motivational levels (M) and the feeling of a need to take action (Na) … It all sounds so plausible, but sadly it’s a series of tawdry half truths hatched as a campaign in a PR company, and the story is still being perpetuated.
Blue Monday was first identified by Cliff Arnall, formerly of Cardiff University, marking the symbolic time in January when people suffer from a series of combined depressive effects. The above formula calculates that Monday 18 January 2010 is the worst day of the year, when the Christmas glow has faded away, New Year’s resolutions have been broken, cold Winter weather has set in and credit card bills will be landing on doormats across the land – whilst the January pay-cheque is still some way away.
Of course, we were completely sucked in by the pseudo science involved in this, particularly when we found out that there was a campaign and indeed a campaign web site with the endorsement of the UK Mental Health Foundation.
Then we began researching and we didn’t need to go all that far to find some fairly discrediting information. U.K. Guardian columnist Dr Ben Goldacre substantially discredited both the equation and the people behind it in two highly entertaining columns that are fortunately still available on-line, entitled MS = media slut, but CW = corporate whore and How GxPxIxC = selling out to your corporate sponsor as part of his highly entertaining Bad Science Manifesto.
It seems that the press release was delivered substantially pre-written to a number of academics by Public Relations agency Porter Novelli, who offered them money to put their names to it.
A week after Goldacre’s first article in November, 2006, the Guardian ran a small notice which read, “Cardiff University has asked us to point out that Dr Cliff Arnall was a former part-time tutor at the university but left in February."
Now despite all this quite adverse publicity, which is widely available at Wikipedia, only one newspaper or indeed, news organization of any type, has ever questioned the continued flow of BS.
Not content with his 15 minutes of fame, Cliff has subsequently derived another equation which can be used to calculate the happiest day of the year and this time the Telegraph's Medical Editor fell for the same story that Ben Goldacre hand't swallowed two years earlier.
Depression is a serious business – selling it with snake oil sales techniques seems so very tawdry.
Surely we deserve better than this.