Seasonal Affective Disorder In the Workplace: How to Support Employee Mental Health Over the Winter
Nov 24, 2020

According to research, around 10 million Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

Often called the "winter blues", SAD tends to be most prevalent in the cold weather months, when days are shorter and it gets dark earlier.

In a year that has already seen so much stress and sadness, how can you protect the mental health of your workforce as we move toward winter? Today, we're sharing a few tips and considerations that can help your team navigate this trying time together.


What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder is a specific type of recurrent major depressive disorder. By recurrent, we mean that symptoms tend to appear around the same time every year.

As mentioned, there tends to be an uptick in diagnosed SAD cases as winter approaches. These depressive episodes may begin in early autumn and last until the spring, when they finally lessen. While some people experience SAD during the summer months, this is far less common. 

In fact, SAD is more common during the wintertime than any other mental health issue that occurs during this time. As such, you may notice that it's beginning to affect your employee's day-to-day performance. Some of the most common signs of SAD include:

  • Ongoing low mood
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Loss of interest in everyday activities
  • General irritability

These symptoms are usually triggered by the fact that employees arrive at work in the dark and leave work in the dark. The lack of sunlight can be enough to cause the onset of SAD, especially in those employees who are already working through other mental health issues.


Helping Employees Through SAD

As an employer, what can you do to help your workforce make it through the winter months and alleviate any symptoms of SAD? Let's take a look at a few steps and actions you can put into place.


Let the Sun Shine

We've mentioned how lessened exposure to sunlight can cause the onset of SAD. To this end, encourage your employees to get as much sunlight as possible! Just a few minutes in the sun can increase your body's natural output of serotonin, the feel-good hormone!

If you're in a traditional office, this can be as simple as opening the blinds or pulling back the curtains. You can also outfit your office with special SAD lamps that are designed to mimic the effects of natural sunlight. If your employees are working remotely, be sure to schedule plenty of stretch breaks into the workday, and encourage your team members to go outside and get some fresh air during this time.


Pencil in Downtime

The aforementioned stretch breaks are nice, but employees also need plenty of valuable time with their loved ones. If they feel overworked or stretched too thin, that mounts additional pressure onto their already-vulnerable spirit.

On a scale of one to five, more than 70% of American workers rate their stress level at a three or higher.

By helping your employees achieve a clear and consistent work/life balance, you can help lower their stress levels and help ward off any nagging feelings of discontent or detachment.


Focus on Mental Health Training

So many people suffer from mental health conditions, including SAD, but they do so in silence. The reason why is twofold. 

First, they may not fully understand how to categorize their symptoms. They could have all of the textbook symptoms of SAD and not be able to put their finger on exactly why they feel so down. Or, they might be embarrassed and think they can simply sweep their feelings under the rug until springtime rolls around. 

To that end, it can help to hold virtual mental health training sessions to educate your employees on ways to take care of their mental health and recognize when something feels "off". In this training, you can address SAD directly, discussing the many implications that the condition can have.

Finish by explaining how you'll be there for your staff through this season. These sessions can be fun and interactive, and provide a laidback environment that promotes open discussion.


Encourage Self-Care

Lately, self-care has become somewhat of a buzzword, but for good reason.

Around the world, people are becoming more aware of the importance of tending to their physical, spiritual, mental and emotional needs. If your employees are already dealing with the effects of SAD, they could be on the brink of depression, and any stressful event could set them off.

To help them stay centered and avoid workplace conflict, employers can encourage them to channel that energy into an activity that makes them feel nourished and more like themselves. Have they always wanted to take up a particular hobby? Do they want to establish a new workout routine?

There is no right or wrong way to approach self-care, but employers should make these goals accessible and attainable. From granting additional time off to helping to cover the cost of a gym membership, there are myriad ways you can contribute.


Help Your Workforce Keep SAD at Bay

If seasonal affective disorder threatens to affect the performance and personal wellbeing of your employees, it's time to take action. By holding trainings and one-on-one conversations, you can learn your team members' pain points, as well as how to help alleviate them.

Ultimately, mitigating the effects of SAD requires a full-team commitment to prioritizing each employee's work/life balance. It means making sure that they have access to the resources they need (including breaks and time off) to press the "reset" button, soak up the sun, and optimize their mental health.

As a leading claims services provider, we're dedicated to helping companies all over the world realize the importance of their employees' wellbeing. As we continue to build awareness around mental health, we invite you to join us. Contact our team today to learn more and get started.


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