The springtime brings a close to winter, milder days and the promise of summer around the corner. But the spring also brings the rain, and with the rain, long gray, cloudy days.

While most people associate wintertime with the blues, the gray days of spring and the suddenly shorter days of fall (daylight savings) can be tough as well. No matter what time of year, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may explain the sluggishness some of your employees are feeling.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Has there ever been more apt acronym than SAD? Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that can hit at any time of the year but appears mostly during months of diminished sunlight.

In some cases, usually in younger people, excessive sun can trigger SAD, but most of the time it’s caused by lack of sunlight – hence SAD’s prominence during the fall and winter months.

Everyone has heard of the winter blues, but not everyone knows that it’s a condition called seasonal affective disorder.

 

And not everyone wants to admit they’re not feeling great, especially to coworkers. But by bringing awareness and removing the stigma, HR departments can help.

 

– Ryan Braley, Avitus Group Director of Human Resources and Risk Management

Seasonal affective disorder symptoms include:

  • Depression
    • Hopelessness
    • Lack of concentration
    • Lack of enjoyment (even in regularly enjoyed activities/hobbies)
  • Fatigue/low energy
  • Disruptions in sleep patterns
    • Difficulty falling asleep at night
    • Difficulty waking up in the morning
  • Irritability
  • Appetite changes
    • Weight gain
    • Weight loss
  • Agitation or anxiety

Fun, huh? Seasonal affective disorder counts as a subtype of major depression when it occurs for someone every year.

Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Unfortunately, we still don’t have a good grasp on its exact causes. Many factors can come into play with forms of depression, from life events to attitude – including attitude towards the winter months.

The specific cause of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown. Some factors that may come into play include:

 

Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.

 

Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.

 

Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

 

Mayo Clinic

What we know for sure is that the research and anecdotal evidence tells us is that seasonal affective disorder has something to do with the levels of natural sunlight we get.

Risk Factors

The research also tells us that certain people are more prone to seasonal affective disorder than others.

Some risk factors:

Being female. SAD is diagnosed four times more often in women than men.

 

Living far from the equator. SAD is more frequent in people who live far north or south of the equator. For example, 1 percent of those who live in Florida and 9 percent of those who live in New England or Alaska suffer from SAD.

 

Family history. People with a family history of other types of depression are more likely to develop SAD than people who do not have a family history of depression.

 

Having depression or bipolar disorder. The symptoms of depression may worsen with the seasons if you have one of these conditions (but SAD is diagnosed only if seasonal depressions are the most common).

 

Younger Age. Younger adults have a higher risk of SAD than older adults. SAD has been reported even in children and teens.

 

National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH)

An Explanation for the Blues

No matter what time of year it is, some of your employees may be suffering the effects of seasonal affective disorder.

Seasonal affective disorder may explain their lack of energy, depression and overall blah feeling. Any time is a good time to bring some awareness to your employees about seasonal affective disorder and how to deal with it (Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder).

 

By Charlie Smith