Is 'Blue Monday' real?

The Christmas decorations have made their way back into the attic for another year and December’s pay check is running out.

No wonder ‘Blue Monday’ - supposedly the most depressing day of the year - has made its way on to our calendars again.

Although the concept has been debunked as a PR stunt, there might be some science behind what makes us blue.

What is 'Blue Monday'?

Since 2005 the third Monday of January has been dubbed the most depressing day of the year.

A fake mathematical formula linking the poor weather, Christmas debt and our lack of motivation was used by company Sky Travel to encourage people to book holidays abroad.But most scientists would agree that the date isn't significant enough to swing our mood.

Even the UK psychologist attached to the day - Dr Cliff Arnall - regrets introducing the term and has made efforts to retire it for good.

And charities such as The Samaritans don't believe the mythical event, turning #BlueMonday into #BrewMonday.

So what are the events making our mood low?

Political depression

President Donald Trump's inauguration was highlighted in the research. Credit: AP images

Experts are now closely studying what actually causes depression.

Professor of depression and neuroscience Srijan Sen, from the University of Michigan, was able to link low moods with major political events just by studying junior doctors.

With his team, they found two thirds of major political events assessed led to depression.

Professor Srijan Sen told ITV News: “In the US, the majority of junior doctors identity as liberal so the pattern we saw linked political events that favoured a Republican agenda to low moods.

“For example, when Obamacare was repealed, this population got more depressed.”

The paper published in the British Medical Journal last December also highlighted the 2016 election of US President Donald Trump and his inauguration as triggering moments.

It was even recorded that the 2016 US election had a greater impact on their mental health than the first few weeks of the doctors’ intense medical training.

When asked if politics is making our mood worse, the professor said: “Certainly."

The wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle did not negatively affect the study groups' mood. Credit: AP

The research was conducted through a daily mood tracking app and checked against the most popular Google searches across a two-year period.

Other non-political events such the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and even natural disasters did not negatively affect the study group's mood.

The study by the university might focus on a relatively small sample group with high numbers of women but scientists might be on the way to using technology to better treat our depression.

He said: “We are very bad at doing that historically, figuring out behaviour

“Traditionally, we see patients once a month but digital psychiatry is really promising.”

And if the experiment was repeated, he would expect to see similar results among a UK crowd.

According to the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, antidepressant prescriptions in England rose by 13% in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum in 2016.

Professor Sen said: “We don’t know for certain but my sense is that political engagement fastened by social media clearly affects mood and is likely to hold true in the UK.”

How can scientists pinpoint periods of depression?

Scientists from the Netherlands used a delayed flight simulation to research emotion. Credit: PA

Experts are working on new techniques to predict emotion.

Researchers from the Netherlands created an agent-based model involving every holidaymakers nightmare scenario - having a flight delayed or cancelled.

From the simulation they observed that men are more likely to lose their cool than women.

Dr Natalie van der Wal, who published the paper for The Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, told ITV News: "We examined how different social and cultural factors influence the frustration levels and different ways to express frustrations in passengers at airport waiting for a delayed flight."

She added: "Important findings were that men are more likely to use force than women, the crowd composition, for example the percentage of men versus women, and social influence can lead to more misbehaviours such as yelling, intimidating and using force."

By watching a virtual chain of events unfold, like the popular PC game 'The Sims', she believes scientists are on their way to better understanding human behaviour.

Dr van der Wal said: "By simulating different crowd compositions and different situations, I can ‘predict’ how the group emotion evolves over time."

The study was even able to recommend airports employ chat bots to better support passengers and help sunburned travellers calm down.

Although there are "vast improvements" in the field, with many applying face-reading technology to make studies more accurate, Dr van der Wal says the data isn't always reliable.

She said: "Emotion is very context dependent.

"Emotions are specific to situations and interactions and short lived. A certain mood, which lasts longer than an emotion, can be predicted better."

She added: "These predictions are not very precise, they should be viewed as predicting certain patterns so that one could detect possible situations that can escalate quickly.

Humour helps

Laughter yoga has been around longer than 'Blue Monday', could it take off? Credit: AP

However, the emotional expert does offer some advice to anyone struggling this month.

Dr van der Wal said: "Laughter helps!

"I conducted a meta-analysis on the effects of laughter therapy on health and found that laughter can improve your depression."

She recommends watching a regular dose of comedy "like brushing your teeth".

She said: "There are laughter yoga teachers that can show you how to get a nice belly laugh by starting with a fake laugh that gradually will become a real laugh.

"You could also watch some funny movies that make you laugh and feel happy.

"You could make this a daily practice, like brushing your teeth, to prevent or treat depression."