Seasonal Affective Disorder and how it can affect the workplace

sad woman looking out of the window, grief, bereavement, lockdown

Article by Clare Price, Head of Psychological Services at Onebright

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (commonly referred to as SAD) is a form of short-term depression that affects 3 in 10 adults during seasons throughout the year – mainly in the colder months where there is a lack of sunlight in the winter. But people do feel the effects of the condition in summer too.

It affects levels of hormones (melatonin and serotonin) in the part of the brain controlling overall mood. Within the workplace, those who suffer from the disorder can experience a lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, feelings of wanting to withdraw from work productivity, burnout, sadness, guilt, or hopelessness.

How to support employees who suffer from SAD

More businesses are implementing initiatives and services to help support employees, including those who are trying to cope with SAD. Sometimes it’s the small things that make the greatest difference. Here are some ideas for how you can implement small workplace changes to support employees who suffer from SAD and promote good mental health.

Educate employees and managers about SAD in the workplace

Educate the workforce on the effects SAD has on productivity and encourage employees to seek help when needed. Reduce the stigma surrounding Seasonal Affective Disorder and train managers and the workforce on how to start a conversation if they are concerned about an employee.

Internal Communications

Include content about Seasonal Affective Disorder in company newsletters, and in other employee communications. Identify a mental health first aider at a senior leadership level who might have experienced Seasonal Affective Disorder and is willing to talk about it. This helps to normalise the experience.                        

Tea & Chat

Set up a weekly tea and chat meeting for teams and departments to attend outside of their usual break times. We recommend setting this up in a comfortable environment (if the weather is good, find a nice outdoor space), don’t forget you can do an online meeting too if your team is remote. Grab some biscuits, a cup of something warm, and talk about something neutral.

Conversation starters:        

  • Talk about their hobbies
  • Talk about their weekend or after work plans
  • Ask what made them smile today
  • Talk about any new books, films, or TV series.
  • Their favourite foods and recipes

Create a Mental Health First Aider

Enrol one person (or multiple people if you have a big team) to become your Mental Health First Aider. All businesses have first aiders who you can go to in case of a physical medical issue, but many don’t have a Mental Health First Aider who people can talk to and confide in. By providing peer-to-peer network support within your organisation, you are creating an environment in which the individual may feel more comfortable to discuss any issues they may be having, including the impact of SAD on their performance at work. 

How can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy help those coping with SAD?

Alongside the proactive steps outlined above that employers can take to help employees combat Seasonal Affective Disorder, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one of the fundamental treatments that help people cope with and recover from feelings of depression and anxiety.

  • Sufferers of SAD can learn to recognise the signs and how it affects them, such as a strong desire to sleep and eat.
  • Maximising your exposure to light is very effective. If you can’t get outside, using SAD LED/blue light therapeutic lamps which replicate natural light are very helpful.
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet to balance brain hormone levels.
  • Manage stress – A culmination of tight deadlines at work, personal stressors at home and SAD could prove to push your stress levels into overdrive. Include ‘time out periods’ where you recognise and where possible remove yourself from issues of conflict, friction and raised anxiety. Also try some CBT coping techniques, such as active problem solving, breaking tasks into small steps, and delegating tasks someone else could do.

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