Blue Monday: Why the ‘saddest day of the year’ matters for LGBTQ+ folks

The third Monday of the new year, and also known as “Blue Monday” – the supposed ‘saddest day of the year’.

It’s the bleak midwinter, daylight is still a rarity, the holiday decor is packed up and back in the loft and those gifts that no one wanted have been exchanged for store credit. For many, returning to work post-holidays is quite depressing amid continuing economic uncertainty, the threat of job redundancies and the ongoing conflicts and injustices around the world.

Honestly, what is there to be happy about? It’s almost as if the soundtrack of the winter is the entire discography of The Cure.

In the midst of all this gloom, a particular date looms large on the calendar – Blue Monday. The sad day phenomenon has become a cultural touchstone for discussions surrounding mental health.

However, what you may not know is that Blue Monday is a marketing creation, conjured up by an ad agency working for a travel company to sell more package holidays.

It’s important to recognise that while Blue Monday is a ‘holiday’ manufactured by a corporation, it inadvertently sheds light on the broader conversation about mental health, breaking down barriers and challenging the stigmas that persist – particularly for the LGBTQ+ community.

Where did ‘Blue Monday’ come from?

This quirky yet depressing designation was first introduced by psychologist Cliff Arnall in 2004, prompted by a request from Sky Travel, seeking a supposedly ‘scientific formula’ to encapsulate the January blues.

Arnall’s contentious formula factors in a number of elements – including post-holiday melancholy, gloomy weather, financial strain, diminished motivation, and other contributors – which collectively yet ambiguously mark the third Monday of January as the lowest point of the year.

Concocted as a marketing gimmick to encourage holiday bookings, Blue Monday has seamlessly integrated into everyday language, particularly resonating in the Northern Hemisphere, where weather conditions align with the sombre winter narrative. Thankfully, those living in places like Australia are spared, as it’s currently the summer months in the Southern Hemisphere. 

While the term ‘Blue Monday’ was conceived for commercial purposes, it has attracted its fair share of criticism. While detractors argue that it unnecessarily amplifies stress and tension on an otherwise ordinary day, however, others may buy into the term as an explainer for why they are feeling listless or demotivated.

Mental health is a key issue for the LGBTQ+ community

Despite its artificial origins, Blue Monday inadvertently draws attention to the critical issue of mental health.

For the LGBTQ+ community, where individuals often face unique challenges related to identity, discrimination, and societal expectations, it’s perhaps even more important to address issues around mental health and wellbeing.

Data from the Trevor Project revealed that in 2023, nearly 41 per cent of young LGBTQ+ people in the US have seriously contemplated suicide, and that percentage is higher for transgender, non-binary and/or people of colour. 

In the UK, a survey from YouGov found that 51 per cent of LGBTQ+ Brits say that have experienced or were officially diagnosed with a mental health condition, compared to 32 per cent of the general population.

Blue Monday: An opportunity to tackle stigma and speak up

Blue Monday, though manufactured, has become a rallying point in the month of January for destigmatising conversations around mental health, encouraging open dialogue and fostering a supportive environment for those who may be struggling.

Sadly, access to mental health support is still a luxury for the majority of people around the world. Many private health insurance plans don’t cover mental health issues and in the UK, the NHS is still woefully under-resourced to address issues like depression, anxiety and PTSD.

So while Blue Monday may not actually be the ‘saddest day of the year’, it does offer a timely opportunity for the LGBTQ+ community and allies to reflect on the pervasive stigmas surrounding mental health.

Historically, mental health issues, particularly within marginalised communities, have been met with silence or dismissal – including in the workplace. 

The Blue Monday narrative, despite its origins in marketing, does create a space for all to confront these stigmas head-on, emphasising the reality that mental health is a universal concern and deserves to be

Suicide is preventable. Readers who are affected by the issues raised in this story are encouraged to contact Samaritans on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org), or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). ​Readers in the US are encouraged to contact the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255.

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