Seasonal Affective Disorder

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Health Assured team

17 December 2021

The nights are drawing in, and summer is miles away—for some of us, this shift can be tough. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a serious mental health issue that affects many aspects of a person’s life. The condition tends to occur during the winter months, but it can sometimes occur in the summer too.

This article will help employers gain a deeper understanding of SAD and its impacts on the workplace. After all, you have a duty of care to look after your employees. We’ll cover symptoms, treatments, and adjustments you can make to support your workers.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

What does SAD mean?

It’s useful to think about the disorder as a type of depression. SAD is more than the ‘winter blues’ or a feeling of sadness. It’s a major depressive disorder brought about by the change in seasons.

It is common for people to experience mood shifts with changes in weather or seasons. But SAD causes people to feel severe depressive symptoms that interfere with other areas of life. People suffering from SAD will experience this depression in a seasonal pattern each year.

Most people with SAD suffer from these symptoms in the winter months. But there are a few people who experience these symptoms during the summer months too.

SAD is a serious issue and one that can have drastic effects on productivity in the workplace. That’s why employers must begin to understand the signs and symptoms.

Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms

Seasonal Affective Disorder and depression have similar symptoms.

These include:

  • Persistent low mood.
  • Loss of pleasure or interest in 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; 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 develop the disorder in your younger life—some children even experience it.

The biggest difference between depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder is that latter gets triggered by 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, SAD is 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.

Seasonal Affective Disorder treatments

A GP will be able to assess the situation and provide guidance. Common treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder include:

Talking therapies: like regular depression, SAD is treated with a variety of talking therapies.

Medication: antidepressants can help people reach a place where they can cope with the daily demands of life. The main one used to treat SAD is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI).

Some alternative approaches may relieve the symptoms of SAD. We’ll discuss these below.

How to get over Seasonal Affective Disorder in the workplace

These are some quick and easy ways to life more manageable for employees suffering from SAD in the workplace:

  • More light: some offices are rather dark and dreary places. Some people’s desks and cubicles are situated far from the nearest source of natural light. Try rearranging your floor plan to maximise the natural light available. You could also consider moving people suffering from SAD closer to the windows.
  • Encourage more outdoor time: employees should be taking lunch away from their desks. It helps clear the mind, reset, and means you can attack the afternoon’s tasks afresh. But try encouraging people to go further than the staff kitchen. Lunchtime is ideal to get out and experience the positive impacts of nature on mental health. 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 with health: SAD can wreak havoc on appetite, and this causes weight gain. Weight gain can make the associated depression much harder to deal with. Try providing healthier snacking options during the winter months like diet drinks, herbal teas and fruit.
  • Even more light: Many people that suffer from SAD enjoy a SAD lamp or lightbox. This is a form of light therapy that uses fluorescent lights to simulate the natural sun.

How to prepare for SAD

We know when the winter months are starting to draw closer, the temperature drops, and the clocks go back. So, it's good to prepare for SAD ahead of time. If there are any employees you know who are struggling, reach out to them and discuss any adjustments you can make.

If you have mental health support in place, make sure you’re signposting to it. The winter months can cause a spike in loneliness and financial worries at Christmas. Encourage line managers to check in with colleagues in regular one to ones. When you support your employees, productivity improves as a result.

Get help for Seasonal Affective Disorder from Health Assured

Health Assured can help. We have trained advisors and counsellors on-hand 24/7, 365. Our Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) service can help you and your employees to increase your wellbeing and productivity. Supporting SAD people at work begins by providing the mental health guidance they need to overcome tough times.

We also offer a line manager support line that offers advice to managers who may not know how to approach SAD concerns.

Contact us today to discuss this further on 0844 891 0352

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