If you wake up feeling blue Monday, it's no wonder.

Monday is the most depressing day of the year, according to a United Kingdom psychologist.

Dr. Cliff Arnall developed a formula three years ago as a public relations campaign for a travel agency to boost travel during the industry's slowest month of the year. Arnall took factors like weather, debts, monthly salary, time since Christmas, time since failed attempt to quit (for example, to quit smoking), low motivational levels and the need to take action.

That formula led him to declare the Monday before Jan. 24 as the most depressing of the year.

What Arnall has found is the formula rings true.

"The more I looked at it, it seemed to be definitely something else" besides just a public relations campaign, he said recently from his home in the United Kingdom. "The World Health Organization says in a few years time, depression will be of epidemic proportions. The important thing as psychologists is getting involved ... getting people talking of depression. There is still a massive stigma associated with it."

The winter doldrums

January, as well as February, is when people start getting the blues, said Lisa LaForge, executive director of the Family Services Association of the Greater Elgin Area, which is headquartered in downtown Elgin.
"It is a letdown in the month of January," LaForge said.

The agency provides mental health services as well as a consumer credit counseling service, a debt-management program. Last year, 360 families used the debt-management program and 3,000 were treated for mental illness, she said.

LaForge said the agency does not typically see many clients in December, although it can be a depressing time for many people. She finds many are caught up in the shopping, the parties and being with family members and avoid those feelings of depression, she said. This month is often the time debt comes crashing in, loneliness can set in and people feel down. People begin realizing how much they spent during the holidays, she said.

"January is a bad month," she said.

By the third week of January, people usually realize the New Year's pledges to make changes actually take a lot of work, she said. The goal of being able to wear a bikini in the summer requires diet and exercise now, but it is a lot easier to visualize, she said.

For those struggling with debt, this year may be particularly worse because the remedies to clear debt are not as easy as filing bankruptcy, she said. Bankruptcy laws have changed and credit card companies have doubled monthly minimum payments, LaForge said. A majority of clients she sees have had a catastrophic event happen that caused a financial crisis, she said.

Financial problems can lead to depression or conflicts in marriages, LaForge said.

Topic often still taboo

Depression, though, remains a topic people are afraid to talk about, LaForge finds.
"There is such a stigma to admit you are feeling blue or alone or depressed, they think you are somehow weak," she said. "It has gotten a lot easier for people because there are lots of public relations campaigns. But, it requires strength and courage to get help for that."

LaForge said she never heard of Arnall's formula but welcomes anything to educate people about depression.

"I think there is only good to come out of that," she said, of providing education on the topic.

Scholars and psychiatrist have criticized Arnall's formula, saying it oversimplifies the complexities of depression, but he says it was meant to be a simple idea to get people talking.

"It is deliberately simplistic so people in a pub and restaurant can talk about it," Arnall said, adding it does not matter if people think it is "rubbish and a waste of time, as long as it gets people talking. You never know -- having a chat about it might help them later on."

His formula is being used by agencies promoting awareness about depression in Great Britain and other parts of the world. Arnall recommends people dealing with a prolonged depression seek professional help, but those feeling a bit blue should use the day to examine their lives and do something positive, he said.

Focus on the good things in your life, Arnall said, and ask yourself what are five things you need to do in your life? Do something fun or buy fresh flowers or do volunteer work, he said.

"It comes back to the point, if it gets people talking about it, I am happy to use it as a springboard so people can, bit by bit, increase the quality of their lives.