Every year I get asked by journalists and producers to comment on ‘Blue Monday’. . .the supposed most depressing day of the year based on a cod-equation. Every year I tell them that it’s just a PR exercise dreamed up by a PR company to promote a travel company to encourage us to cheer ourselves up by ‘booking a holiday’. One factor in the equation includes the longest gap between paydays. . which means ‘blue monday’ always falls in January, since most people are paid earlier in December so they can spend, spend, spend at Christmas.
So isn’t it just a harmless bit of fun? Well apart from bringing the subject of psychology into disrepute and trivializing depression. . . surely it’s just an innocent bit of trivia to fill a few column inches or tag onto the end of a news programme. I had hoped the story would have gone away by now, but every year it re-appears like a kind of journalistic herpes!
So why does it matter to me? Well, I was the psychologist originally approached, 22 December 2004, by a PR company with a pre-written equation that they were going to ‘validate’ by ‘research’. They told me they wanted a male psychologist as it would carry more weight (which annoyed me). I turned it down explaining that “I don’t support ‘made-up’ psychology”. My hope was that they would rethink their approach, and I would have been happy to have worked on an approach that could include evidence-based psychology. But it seems the PR company was committed to the ‘formula’ and went on to find someone who would put their name to it.
I’m not anti-media and have fronted a number of media campaigns, such as one to promote adult learning for the Learning and Skills Council. If I can legitimately bring evidenced-based psychology to the campaign and its a worthwhile message and it isn’t for a company with dodgy values then I’ll consider it.
It’s no point in protesting that ‘Blue Monday’ is anything but a PR stunt. It doesn’t tell the general public anything about evidence-based psychology. It just illustrates how psychology can be misused and gives the impression of the psychologist as a charlatan and a ‘side-show, snake-oil peddler.
So there you have it. May I urge you all on ‘Psychobabble Blue Monday’ to go out and do something nice for someone else. Pay someone a compliment, give a small gift, or just smile and pass on good cheer. . . but whatever you do. . . don’t feel manipulated to book a holiday! And if you do make sure it’s not with the company peddling the cod-psychology! And always, always be aware of ‘psychological formulae’. There’s a quote from systems expert Checkland who said ‘Life’s too quixotic to be modelled’.
I co-operated with Ben Goldacre on his piece about Blue Monday, and regret that I didn’t let him quote me by name at the time. See: (MediaSlut – Ideas) + Money = CorporateWhore