The third Monday in January has, since about 2005, been reported to be the day of the year that people feel most depressed. This correlates with another belief that the most suicides take place on this day.
It’s easy to understand why the belief in Blue Monday persists; after the holiday season people may be more in-debt than usual, they may be missing the family and friends they were able to reconnect with over the holidays, or they may have a difficult time adjusting to the return to work.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is another explanation for why people may feel down in the month of January. SAD is a combination of physical and emotional disturbances that include depression. This is a somewhat legitimate claim, as SAD occurs with a seasonal pattern, usually in the fall and winter. But even those affected by SAD experience their symptoms around 40% of the year, not just in January, and not just on the third Monday of that month (Kuralansik & Ibay, 2013).
Despite the prevalence of SAD around this time of year, and the other possible risk factors mentioned, the suicide rate does not increase in January. In fact, the suicide rate is consistent throughout the whole year, with a slight rise in the spring time (Yip et al., 2000).
So where did the myth of Blue Monday come from? According to this article, Blue Monday originated as a public relations stunt performed by a travel agency looking to increase trip sales in the month of January, and therefore has no founding in science whatsoever.
Why does Blue Monday always fall on the third Monday of January? This comes from the claim that people’s mood will be most negatively influenced on this day based on a decidedly pseudoscientific equation that supposedly takes into account numerous variables.
If not on Blue Monday, when do most suicides occur? Believe it or not, the suicide rate peaks not in the cold, sometimes gloomy season of winter, but instead in spring and summer (Yip et al., 2000). It should be noted, though, that this peak is very slight, and generally the rate stays the same throughout the whole year.
“Blue Monday” may be a myth, but it is important to remember those that are feeling depressed and possibly suicidal at any time of the year. We know that the majority of those who are suicidal don’t actually want to die, they just want the pain of living to stop. So if you are in crisis on Blue Monday, or any other day, please contact your local crisis centre; they can help. Or if you know someone who you think is suicidal, ask them directly, and check out our tips for speaking with someone you think may be at risk.
Kuralansik, S and Ibay, A. (2013) Seasonal Affective Disorder. American Family Physician, 24(7), 607-610.
Yip, et al. (2000). Seasonal variation in suicides: Diminished or vanished. British Journal of Psychiatry, 177 (4), 366-369.