How to help someone with seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

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Health Assured team

28 October 2019

The nights are drawing in, and summer is miles away—and for some of us, this means misery. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, may affect as many as one in three people in the UK and Ireland.


What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

It’s more than the ‘winter blues’ or a feeling of sadness—it’s a major depressive disorder brought about by the lengthening periods of darkness.

It causes lethargy, low energy, difficulty waking up in the mornings and decreased concentration—it’s a serious issue, and one that can have drastic effects on productivity in the winter months.


What are the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Broadly, SAD has the same outward signs as depression:

  • Persistent low mood.
  • Loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities.
  • Feeling irritable.
  • Feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Feeling stressed or anxious.
  • A reduced sex drive.
  • Becoming less sociable.

There are some SAD-specific signs:

  • Feeling less active than normal.
  • Lethargy and sleepiness throughout the day.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • An increased appetite—particularly for carbs (this can cause weight gain).

There are some common, easily recognisable risk factors for seasonal affective disorder:

  • Women are more likely to suffer—in fact, they’re four times more likely to suffer SAD than men.
  • It’s more common in everyone the further you get from the Equator, the lower hours of sunlight are a big contributor.
  • People with a family history of depression are more likely to develop SAD.
  • You’re more likely to first develop the disorder in younger life—it has even been reported in children.

The biggest and most clear difference between depression and seasonal affective disorder is the latter is linked to the changing seasons, whereas depression is year-round.

Seasonal affective disorder and depression are very similar, it’s true. But there are ways to help with SAD that don’t work with ‘ordinary’ depression.


How common is seasonal affective disorder?

It’s dependent on a variety of factors. But in the UK and Ireland, it’s thought to affect as many as one in three people.

It’s likely someone you know in the workplace is beginning to struggle with it.


How to help with seasonal affective disorder

There are some quick and easy ways to make a workplace a little easier to handle for people who suffer from serious winter depression:

  • More light: some offices are rather dark and dreary places, at least when the sun starts setting earlier and earlier. And some people find themselves seated at desks and cubicles situated far from the nearest source of natural light. Try rearranging your floor plan to maximise the natural light available, and consider moving people suffering SAD closer to windows.

  • Encourage more outdoor time: employees should be taking lunch away from their desks in all offices—it helps clear the mind, reset and means you can attack the afternoon’s tasks afresh. But try encouraging people to go further than just the staff kitchen. Assuming the winter weather isn’t too harsh, lunchtime can be well spent going for a quick walk around the block. It’s about getting as much sunlight and positivity into the workday as possible. Short outdoor meetings and coffee runs should be a priority!

  • Help out with health: SAD can wreak havoc on appetite, and this causes weight gain, and this can make the associated depression harder to deal with. Try providing healthier snacking options during the winter months, diet drinks, herbal teas.

  • Even more light: A lot of people suffering SAD benefit greatly from a SAD lamp or lightbox—this is a form of light therapy that uses fluorescent lights to simulate the natural sun.


Health Assured can help. We have trained advisors and counsellors on-hand 24/7, 365 to aid you and your employees, giving you the tools to increase wellbeing and productivity—whatever the weather you’re under.

Contact us today to discuss this further: 0844 892 2493.

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