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16.01.2018

Problem Debt and Mental Health this Blue Monday

Yesterday, the 15th of January, marked “Blue Monday” – according to some, the most “depressing” day of the year. Between wintry weather and darkness the day can, supposedly, cause droves of people to slink back under their duvet or break down in tears. The cultural phenomenon of Blue Monday can also have some serious implications for how we deal with financial issues, including debt.

What is “Blue Monday”?

We have psychologist, Dr Cliff Arnall, to thank for the phenomenon of Blue Monday. Back in 2005, he was challenged to work out a formula for quantitatively determining the day of the year on which people tend to be the most miserable. The factors which Arnall identified included weather, the length of days, time passed since Christmas, the possibility of crumbling New Year’s resolutions and, critically, debt.

There are a whole host of problems associated with Arnall’s formula. Once criticism launched at the idea by authorities on mental health is that designating a single “most depressing day” creates a time at which it is socially acceptable to feel depressed, whereas in the real world depression can hit anyone, at any time of year. One in four UK adults are affected by depression each year, making the condition one of the most common mental health issues in the country. It is also worth bearing in mind that when Arnall’s Blue Monday theory was first published back in 2005, it was distributed by the travel company which he owned, Sky Travel. In other words, it’s entirely possible that Blue Monday was partly invented to sell holidays. Dr Arnall has since apologised for coining the term, and thereby making January more depressing. This year he has partnered with Virgin Holidays to spread a more positive message about the year’s opening month – that it can be a time to instil positive changes in your life, and, of course, book your next holiday.

Mind, the mental health charity, started the hashtag #BlueAnyDay in response to the Blue Monday mythos, hoping to raise awareness that depression is not regulated by the calendar, and promoting solidarity among those who experience it. The Mental Health Foundation, our charity partner, have also used Blue Monday as a spring-board for bringing mental health issues to the forefront of people’s minds, by promoting Random Acts of Kindness to reverse the day’s negative representation.

Blue Monday and Problem Debt

Marketing gimmick or not, the idea of Blue Monday continues to hold significant cultural currency. Debt charities report an increased number of people accessing their services around this date, as the first post-Christmas credit card bills begin to arrive. This is unsurprising when debt statistics recently released by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) are examined.

In a study commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, it was revealed that half of UK households have some form of unsecured debt, and the total debt owed in the UK amounts to £200 billion. The use of unsecured credit has also been rising around 10% each year. Of these households, those with the lowest incomes found debt to have the greatest impact on their financial positon. 16% of households in the lowest income decile (lowest 10%) were found to be in arrears with debts or other payment obligations, compared to just 1% of households in the highest income decile (highest 10%). The lowest income group are also more likely to have debts which exceed the value of their assets, according to this study.

Not all debt is problem debt, but the fact that people with lower incomes are disproportionately affected by debt obligations suggests some underlying issues. The continued impact of inflation and irregular incomes, triggered by the increase in the number of people employed part-time or within the “gig economy”, has left many people unable to meet their basic living expenses without credit.

Overcoming the January Blues

Although pin-pointing a single “most depressing day” is misguided, January can be a tough month for many of us. The combination of dwindling funds prior to pay-day and continuing short, dark days can easily bring down moods. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to improve your mood and finances throughout many people’s least favourite month.

  • Get Help with Debt

Debt is one of the main financial issues associated with the post-Christmas period, so one sure fire way to see positive changes to your financial circumstances is to get help if you need it. Around eight million people in the UK struggle with problem debt, and debt help is out there.

  • Establish Financial Resolutions

Whether you jump on the New Year’s Resolutions band wagon or not, our tips for Financial Resolutions could offer some inspiration for making positive financial changes this year.

  • Try and get some Sunlight

It can be difficult with dark days and demanding work schedules, but if possible it is a good idea to get outside and soak up some daylight. The exposure can trigger the production of endorphins – the feel-good hormones – as well as balancing your serotonin levels, leading to a more stable mood.

  • Exercise

Whether walking, swimming, running, or hitting the gym, exercise is another natural mood-booster. Although it sometimes takes a lot of effort to get up and exercise at such a cold and dark time of year, you will feel more energetic overall if you manage to overcome this hurdle. Even gentle exercise such as walking can make a huge difference, so if you don’t have time or energy for a long work-out, substitute a short walk rather than skipping exercise altogether.

If you need more information about the options available to you in dealing with your debt, you can always speak confidentially with one of our friendly advisors on 0808 2085 198.