SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER – More than just the Winter Blues

Whether you are working in an office or remotely in Canada and many U.S. December means the start of Winter and months of shorter days, longer nights, and frigid temperatures mixed with blowing snow, wind chill, and icy conditions that can keep us trapped inside.  The change in weather may impact everyone’s mood negatively temporarily as they adjust, but for some, the winter blues can lead to significant mental health challenges that can affect their personal and work life. 

In the workplace, you’ll encounter employees suffering from the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as Seasonal Depression. Employees experiencing effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder may show a change in mood and behaviour, such as increased irritability, sadness, low energy levels, or difficulties with concentration.  By educating yourself on the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder and knowing what to look for, employers can recognize employees who need their support and can offer and provide the resources they need in the workplace.

So, what is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal affective disorder, often referred to as seasonal depression or the winter blues, is a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. Typically, it begins and ends at the same time each year, around the fall and winter seasons.  However, in Canada, where winter conditions can roll well into Spring, so the effects of SAD can linger in individuals for longer periods and not limited to Fall and Winter months.

So, what causes SAD?

Several factors are believed to contribute to the onset of seasonal depression. They include:

  • Reduced Sunlight Exposure: Limited exposure to natural sunlight during winter can disrupt the body’s internal clock and lead to depressive symptoms.
  • Biological Clock Disruption: Changes in circadian rhythms and melatonin production during the darker winter months can impact mood regulation.
  • Serotonin Levels: Reduced sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, affecting mood and contributing to fatigue and depression.

So, what are the symptoms of Seasonal Affective?

Seasonal affective disorder impacts individuals’ mental health differently and it truly would be different for every person. However, that being said, there are some common signs that a person may be suffering from SAD.

They would include but not limited to the following: 

  • Persistent low mood.
  • Lack of energy or fatigue.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Changes in sleep patterns.
  • Changes in appetite. 
  • Weight gain or loss.
  • Social withdrawal.

How to support employees with Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Here are some strategies employers can use to help employees with SAD: 

Training for Management at all levels

Provide training for management at all levels on recognizing the signs of seasonal affective disorder and how to support employees with depression. Equip your business and its staff with resources and guidance on how to approach employees on topics related to mental health and discuss those issues in a non-judgemental manner

Create Open Awareness about Seasonal Depression & its Symptoms in the Workplace with Everyone

Talk about it in your team meetings and one-on-ones.  Send out emails or internal communication that include helpful information and resources on how to identify and cope with seasonal depression. Provide literature on SAD, how it can impact a person’s mental health, and offer information on where employees can find support services or helplines.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)

If your business offers a benefits plan with an Employee Assistance Program that provides mental health resources, counselling, and support services. It’s important to communicate the availability of these services in your workplace so employees know how to access them when needed. 

Wellness Workshops & Programs

Implement wellness programs that focus on mental health. Alternatively, you can update existing programs to include mental health-related components. This could include virtual fitness classes, mindfulness sessions, workshops on stress management, or guest speakers and webinars that provide education on mental health topics.

Flexible Work Schedules & arrangements

Consider offering a flexible work schedule that allows employees to maximize exposure to natural light during daylight hours. If possible, offer employees affected by SAD to work remotely, so they can perform their tasks in comfortable environments and while at peak energy levels.  This is a win-win for the business and the employee as a happier and healthier employee usually leads to more satisfied customers.

Well-lit Workspaces in Winter

Well let’s be honest you should always have a well-lit workspace, but it is important to let in as much natural light as possible during the winter months. For your remote workers, encourage them to work in places with access to natural light, so I room with windows.  

Encourage Breaks & Exercise

We put this in here, but this should be done all year long.  Regular breaks and exercises prevent short and long-term employee burnout. Encourage your staff to take short walks outside or breaks to stretch and relax. 

Organize Social Events

Organizing company social and team-building events are extremely important to help employees stay connected. If you have an office-based or hybrid team, social outings can be a good way to boost morale and help your staff bond. For remote workers, you can schedule virtual events and regular one-on-one check-ins. This will help keep them engaged at work and feel connected to the team.