How to Support Employees with Seasonal Affective Disorder

  • Employer advice
Seasonal Affective Disorder light therapy
Michelle Ann Zoleta

Michelle Ann Zoleta, Health & Safety Team Manager

(Last updated )

In many parts of Canada, the bleak winter months bring darker, shorter days and frigid, icy temperatures. Although the change in weather may impact everyone’s mood negatively, for some, the winter blues can lead to significant mental health challenges. 

In the workplace, you’ll encounter employees suffering from the effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression. Staff who experience SAD may show a change in mood and behaviour, such as increased irritability, sadness, low energy levels, or difficulties with concentration. By being aware of the symptoms of SAD, employers can recognize employees who need their support and provide the resources they need in the workplace.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal affective disorder, often referred to as seasonal depression or the winter blues, is a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. Typically, it begins and ends at the same time each year, around the fall and winter seasons. In Canada, where winters and dreary weather conditions can last for many months, the effects of SAD can linger in individuals for longer periods of time.

What causes SAD?

There are several factors that are believed to contribute to the onset of seasonal depression. They include:

  • Reduced sunlight exposure: Limited exposure to natural sunlight during winter can disrupt the body's internal clock and lead to depressive symptoms.
  • Biological clock disruption: Changes in circadian rhythms and melatonin production during the darker winter months can impact mood regulation.
  • Serotonin levels: Reduced sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, affecting mood and contributing to fatigue and depression.

Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms

Seasonal affective disorder impacts individuals' mental health differently. However, there are some common signs that a person may be suffering from SAD. They include: 

  • Persistent low mood.
  • Lack of energy or fatigue.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Changes in sleep patterns.
  • Changes in appetite. 
  • Weight gain or loss.
  • Social withdrawal.

How to support employees with seasonal affective disorder?

Here are some strategies employers can use to help employees with SAD: 

Create awareness about seasonal depression

You can send out emails, company newsletters, flyers, or internal communication that include helpful information and resources on how to cope with seasonal depression. Provide literature on SAD, how it can impact a person’s mental health, and offer information on where employees can find support, such as counselling services or helplines.

Flexible work arrangements

Consider offering a flexible work schedule that allows employees to maximize exposure to natural light during daylight hours. You can also offer employees affected by SAD to work remotely, so they can perform their tasks in comfortable environments and while at peak energy levels.

Well-lit workspaces and light therapy

Create well-lit workspaces in your business that let in natural light during the winter months. For remote workers, you can encourage them to work in places with access to natural light. Also, consider providing lightboxes to employees that mimic natural sunlight. Light therapy, or phototherapy, can help regulate the body's circadian rhythms and improve mood.

Wellness workshops and programs

Implement wellness programs that focus on mental health. Alternatively, you can update existing programs to include mental health-related components. This could include virtual fitness classes, mindfulness sessions, workshops on stress management, or guest speakers and webinars that provide education on mental health topics.

Encourage breaks and exercise

Promote regular breaks and exercises to prevent employee burnout. Encourage your staff to take short walks outside or breaks to stretch and relax. Additionally, you can consider offering discounted gym memberships or organizing group exercise sessions that can be held virtually or onsite. 

Training for managers

Provide training for managers on recognizing the signs of seasonal affective disorder and how to support employees with depression. Equip your managers with resources and guidance on how they can approach employees on topics related to mental health and discuss those issues in a non-judgemental manner. 

Organize social or virtual events

Organize company social events to help your employees stay connected. If you have an office-based or hybrid team, social outings can be a good way to boost morale and help your staff bond. For remote workers, you can schedule virtual events and regular one-on-one check-ins. This will help keep them engaged at work and feel connected to the team.

Offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)

Offer your workers Employee Assistance Programs that provide mental health resources, counselling, and support services. It’s important to communicate the availability of these services in your workplace so employees know how to access them when needed. 

Do you need help creating a workplace mental health policy?

Peninsula’s HR experts can help you create policies that support your employees' mental health and well-being in the workplace. We provide total HR support, including calculating accurate leave pay, creating contracts and documentation, and can help assess and optimize workplace procedures. To learn more about our services, call us today at 1 (833) 247-3652.

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