How to help homeworkers through Seasonal Affective Disorder and Blue Monday

Stephanie Byrne-Roche

December 22 2020

While the approaching new year offers the chance to start anew, 2020 has been tough on everyone.

And now, as we’ve entered winter, some of your remote workers may be exhibiting symptoms of depression. One cause may be Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at a certain time of year. For many, it’s a yearly battle.

Symptoms tend to start in the autumn or winter but improve in the spring. Symptoms also vary in severity from person to person.

SAD is similar in ways to the phenomenon known as ‘Blue Monday’.

Blue Monday falls on January 20th, the third Monday of the month, and is said to be the most depressing day of the year. Why? Well, there’s the gap between paydays, the bleak weather conditions, and failed new year’s resolutions.

The impact of these factors can have the same effect on employees as SAD, so it’s important to remain vigilant in the new year.

Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms and treatment

The exact cause for SAD isn’t known, but it’s thought that a lack of sunlight can cause it in winter.

Symptoms listed by the HSE include:

  • A persistent low mood.
  • A loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities.
  • Feelings of despair, guilt, and worthlessness.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Feeling stressed, anxious, or lethargic.
  • Sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning.
  • Difficulty concentrating.

When it comes to treatment, a visit to the GP is the first step. They may recommend certain treatments, including:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • Antidepressants
  • Light therapy

Employees who work from home can try to improve their condition by getting out for lunchtime walks and eating a balanced diet.

How can I help my employees manage seasonal depression?

The stress and isolation created by the coronavirus pandemic are enough for anyone to have on their plate. Seasonal Affective Disorder may make managing seasonal depression even harder.

If your employees are reporting symptoms, here are some ways you can help them:

Create awareness and provide support

Once upon a time, an ‘open door policy’ enabled your employees to reach out to you when struggling with a mental health challenge.

But now many employees are working from home, restricting their options in a sense. To counter this, send out informational emails to start a conversation.

You could also have a mental health professional conduct a virtual talk on SAD or train your managers to recognise symptoms and help affected employees.

Inform employees of coping steps

Living through the coronavirus pandemic requires a certain degree of self-care.

For employees who experience SAD each year, 2020 has been particularly difficult.

To help employees cope, you can inform them of the following steps:

  • Make a daily plan and stick to it as closely as possible e.g. go to bed and wake at fixed times.
  • Eat a balanced and nutritious diet. Avoid too much takeout or junk food.
  • Create and follow an exercise routine (exercise improves depression and anxiety).
  • Develop a healthy work-life balance. Start and finish on time.
  • Take short breaks to stretch and lunchtime walks.
  • Stay in touch with family, friends, and colleagues.
  • Sign up to online classes or a remote volunteering role.

Organise online gatherings 

Online gatherings, such as your Christmas party, will help those engaging in remote work stay connected during this coronavirus pandemic.

Frequent check-ins or team meetings will also help those struggling with isolation and loneliness.

Offer flexible work hours

If viable, offering flexible working hours may help your employees affected by SAD. It would allow them to plan extra time outdoors, complete their errands, and stick to exercise routines.

Inform employees of your mental health resources

Your business may already have mental health resources available, such as an Employee Assistance Program. If so, remind employees of its benefits and how they can access it.

Need our help?

If you’re a Peninsula client, you can call our 24/7 helpline for instant, unlimited advice on handling all your employee issues.

Even if you’re not a client, you can still claim a free advice call with one of our HR and health & safety experts today.

To speak to an expert now, call 0818 923 923.

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