News and Comment

Charities jumping on the Blue Monday bandwagon – a bit of harmless fun or a does it undermine the importance of evidence-based science?

Friday 25 January 2013

This week began with the scientifically proven most depressing day of the year. Except that it didn’t, really. We all know that Blue Monday started off as a marketing stunt based on nonsense science, and who can blame companies for jumping on the bandwagon using it to try and sell holidays, coffee, banking services, and whatever else. However, should respected charities like Mind, who used ‘the most depressing day of the year’ as a platform to raise awareness of mental health at work, be associating themselves with pseudoscience? Is it a harmless bit of fun in aid of a good cause or does it undermine the importance of evidence-based policy and practice in a field as contentious as mental health?

On Monday, Mind placed volunteer collectors at ‘blue line’ tube stations, made a station announcement at Holborn. and covered their activities on Twitter. They were pretty successful too, raising £600 in just the first half of the day and getting a fair amount of media coverage. They were careful not to endorse Blue Monday itself, saying that they know that there’s no one day of the year that’s more depressing than the rest, but they did actively use the opportunity it presented as a chance to raise awareness, and money.

Mind is not the first mental health charity to play the Blue Monday card. In previous years the Samaritans and the Mental Health Foundation campaigned on the day, attracting some high profile derision from Ben Goldacre. Mind weren’t exempt from criticism either. They did indeed receive some Twitter backlash but handled it well, stressing that they hadn’t taken the decision lightly and they just hope that their activities ‘contributed to a day of positive discussion’.

Indeed, after working for almost 70 years to reduce the stigma of mental health, Mind are hardly the type of organisation who would embark on activities they felt would risk implying that depression is something that the whole nation suffers from and insulting people who genuinely suffer from mental illness.

They most likely felt that the opportunity to raise awareness and raise money outweighed the potential risk of trivialising their cause,  After all, if marketing stunts like this can be used to promote social good and spark debate, rather than just to sell more products, surely that must be a good thing, mustn’t it?