Supporting employees with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Also known as the ‘winter blues’, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects people when the days are shorter and colder. Common symptoms include mood swings, irritability, problems concentrating, weight gain, and even depression. For some employees, these symptoms have a substantial impact on day to day activities, in particular their work life.

SAD is linked to reduced exposure to sunlight. This affects the production of melatonin and serotonin – hormones that affect our mood. The easiest way to treat SAD is to make sure employees are getting enough sunlight. With a little flexibility, this can be really easy to do.

Employers being open to adjusted working hours is integral to supporting sufferers of SAD. Allowing employees to start a little later or finish a little earlier so that they can make the most of the sunshine can be all it takes to alleviate symptoms. If possible, look into seating employees near a window to allow the daylight in while they’re working.

Employees being aware of what is available to them is often overlooked. Support through their benefits packet (like counselling services through the Employee Assistance Line) might be easily accessible, but do they know how to access it? Promoting these benefits in the office can be a great way to let employees know support is out there for them. Simple steps like this can make a huge difference.

For more severe cases, sufferers have benefited from SAD light-therapy boxes. These boxes create a simulation of sunlight which in turn triggers serotonin release in the brain, helping with sleep cycles and feeling happier overall. These can be purchased for around £40.

SAD is a difficult disorder for employers to effectively support, because it can be difficult to pin point, and even when it’s not, employees might not want to be open about their experience. In these cases, it’s important to promote a culture of being open and honest when dealing with mental health issues, and ensuring no employee feels that opening up with their colleagues or line manager will lead to them feeling stigmatised.