Stamatakis: No particular day scientifically designated for depression

By Nick Stamatakis

January is miserable.

You don’t need The Pitt News to tell you that, though. Starting a… January is miserable.

You don’t need The Pitt News to tell you that, though. Starting a conversation with anybody on the street this time of year will inevitably lead to the same banter about how slowly this time of the year travels and how generally miserable everybody seems.

But if it makes you feel better, these feelings don’t just stem from having a rather depressing set of friends. In 2005, Cliff Arnall, a psychologist from Cardiff University, actually created an equation involving many of the things that make this time of the year so difficult — lingering debt from the holidays, the weather, lack of motivation, failed New Year’s resolutions — and found that every New Year leads to a general increase in melancholy culminating on a specific day into a single, miserable juggernaut of depression.

And for this year, the big winner is Jan. 24, the fourth Monday of the month. This is the most depressing day of the year.

But before you relegate yourself to your room for reruns of “Law and Order: SVU” to try to cope, the whole Pitt campus needs to take this dreary day, termed “Blue Monday,” and realize it isn’t very accurate.

It’s actually a lot worse. The year is actually more of a minefield with scientifically designated depression areas ready to flare up at any moment.

For one, Mondays aren’t even the most depressing day of the week. As part of a study released in 2010, The London School of Economics asked study subjects to regularly indicate their moods via iPhone and found Tuesdays to be the most depressing day of the week. The weekend’s positive effects no longer linger, and the next weekend seems more like a mirage than a reachable goal.

So maybe two days actually require extra doses of SVU. Jan. 25 might be just as bad as Jan. 24. Blue Monday might actually be followed by Gray Tuesday.

But to complicate things further, there is a possibility we are in the completely wrong part of the year to even be having this conversation — because while the Blue Monday equation makes logical sense, there is no data to support its existence.

Other data shows, rather, that the most depressing time of the year occurs right before Thanksgiving. Bill Tancer, of the Internet tracking service Hitwise, notes that internet searches for anti-depression medications peak around this time, whereas January actually sees a drop in searches. The theory here is that holiday stress and similarly nasty weather cause anxiety and fear, a more potent brew for depression than the pure singular dreariness of January.

Finally, given the huge effect relationships have on our personal happiness, it makes sense that a time preceding breakups would be particularly depressing. Weeks of second-guessing, nervous silences and apprehension about the future can easily wear a person down.

Of course, Facebook gives us the ability to track breakups. But sadly for our theory, the most breakups tend to occur at the beginning of March and in the middle of December. This makes the days leading up to Spring and Winter breaks the most depressing of the year.

With so many great days to feel depression throughout the year, the choices can be dizzying. Different interpretations of the data provide many feasible options. There are multiple months whose Tuesdays might be playing proud host to the most depressing day of the year.

Of course, it is clear that this discussion yields few useful truths. You can try to line up your TiVos with crime drama marathons in order to combat a universally depressing day, but in reality, a singular day of depression probably doesn’t exist. All this discussion shows is how silly research and statistics can be at times.

With computing power making compiling statistics so simple and technology tracking our daily lives, we are nearing a point in time at which there will be able to be a study for any social or behavioral topic. Although this can provide for interesting conversation, it’s best to not take any of it too seriously, especially when the research leads to oversimplifications of complicated, nuanced topics like depression.

Arnall, whose research led to the coining of Blue Monday, has actually come to this conclusion in recent years, regretting his decision to try to quantify the most depressing day. At its best, after all, it’s a weak, untestable theory, and at its worst, it’s a damaging self-fulfilling prophecy. Declaring a day most depressing doesn’t help anybody and just leads to people moping around, talking about how depressing life seems.

I suppose, then, we’re right back where we started.

January is miserable.

E-mail Nick at [email protected] If you or someone you know is depressed, be sure to contact the University Counseling Center at 412-648-7930.