Addressing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in the workplace

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression which peaks seasonally, becoming most apparent in the winter months. The cause of SAD isn’t completely understood, however. It’s rarer in parts of the world with consistently long, bright days, and so is often linked to shorter days, longer nights and lack of sunlight.

When someone isn’t exposed to enough sunlight, the part of their brains which produce melatonin and serotonin do not always work as effectively, affecting both the individual’s mood and energy levels.

SAD commonly starts between the ages of 18-30 and can continue periodically for the rest of the individual’s life. The symptoms are generally most prominent in December, January and February. Often referred to as the ‘Winter Blues’ the severity of this illness can range from lethargy to debilitating sadness and disinterest.

Common symptoms include:

  • Sleep problems
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Apathy
  • Irritability
  • Social anxiety
  • Persistent low mood
  • Mood swings
  • Weakened immune systems.

Supporting mental health in the workplace

Individuals are advised to go to their GPs in order to determine if medication can help them and work out ways to manage this disorder. However, having a supportive workplace means that people who suffer from SAD and other mental disorders feel less alone and have a safe space. It’s also good to allow for natural light in your office, encourage activity and strive to provide healthy snacks such as fruit instead of sugary treats.

1) Take an active approach

Your first step is to develop an action plan for changing attitudes towards mental health in the workplace. Look for areas in which your company lacks understanding, support or facilities and work out how to address these. Set goal dates, timescales and training requirements. Your main objective is to break the stigma surrounding mental health and start the conversation.

2) Recognise the signs

Employees often have difficulties revealing their mental health struggles with their employees. Even though more people are speaking up about their struggles, it can still be difficult to speak about your own. Learn to recognise the differences between everyday stress and damaging levels of stress. Educate yourself and your staff on recognising the symptoms, listening, asking for help and showing support to others.

Did you know that?

  • One in five employees have called in sick due to stress
  • One in four of us will experience a mental illness in our lifetime
  • 14% have resigned and 42% have considered resigning over stress
  • 30% don’t feel they can talk to their line manager about stress
  • Better mental health support can save UK businesses up to £8bn per year

3) Make your support known

Offices are increasingly taking additional steps towards improving mental health amongst their employees with better training, mental health first aid officers or ‘mental health champions’ and encouraging an open discussion and a safe space within the culture of their company. It may be helpful to find a way to provide support whilst allowing for anonymity to enable people to seek support whilst retaining their privacy.

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