Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), commonly known as the winter blues, is a form of depression that usually hits during the months of the year that have less sunlight (Seasonal Affective Disorder in Spring?).
While most people have heard of the winter blues or even SAD, they may not realize they have it or how to treat it. Through wellness programs, human resources departments can bring awareness to employees and provide education on how to treat seasonal affective disorder.
Awareness through Wellness Programs
A person with “clinical” seasonal affective disorder will experience depression every year at around the same time of year. However, people who have never had it before can also get it.
People with clinical SAD know it’s coming and know they have to suffer through it again. Many have regular routines they go through to help deal with it.
People who don’t get it every year or have never gotten it might not recognize it for what it is. For those people, it can help if your HR department brings some awareness to the condition.
This is where a company’s wellness program can really make a difference. Awareness is key.
Most people have heard of winter blues but they may not know them as a classified form of depression that can have profound negative effects. Also, they may not know what symptoms to look for in themselves or in their coworkers.
– Ryan Braley, Director of Human Resources and Risk Management at Avitus Group
There are a few ideas out there about how to treat seasonal affective disorder, but the primary recommendation is light therapy.
Because winter depression is probably caused by a reaction to a lack of sunlight, broadband light therapy is frequently used. This therapy requires a light box or a light visor worn on the head like a cap. The individual either sits in front of the light box or wears light visor for a certain length of time each day.
Generally, light therapy takes between 30 and 60 minutes each day throughout the fall and winter. The amount of time required varies with each individual. When light therapy is sufficient to reduce symptoms and to increase energy level, the individual continues to use it until enough daylight is available…
When light therapy does not improve symptoms within a few days, then medication and, or, behavioral therapies should be introduced. In some cases, light therapy can be used in combination with anyone or all of these therapies.
- Monitor your mood and energy level
- Take advantage of available sunlight
- Plan pleasurable activities for the winter season
- Plan physical activities
- Approach the winter season with a positive attitude
- When symptoms develop seek help sooner rather than later
Mindset, or Attitude
Let’s face it, most people enjoy the warmer, lighter months over the colder, darker ones. Your average employee would rather see a bright, sunny day outside over a dark, snowy one.
But there are exceptions. In places where skiing is a popular activity, such as the Rocky Mountains or the Alps, the winter months bring a time of excitement. In those places, the winter becomes something to look forward to, which brings up a very important aspect to all of this: mindset.
Naturally, you’d think that seasonal affective disorder would be more prevalent in the northern, darker latitudes – and it appears to be, for the most part – but there are exceptions.
Tromsø, Norway, with a latitude of 69°N, should theoretically see some of the highest rates of seasonal depression of anywhere on the globe. After all, it’s a place where the sun doesn’t come up at all during the Polar Night from November to January.
Yet it doesn’t. According to an article in the Atlantic, the residents of Tromsø have about the same rate of seasonal affective disorder as residents of Montgomery County, Maryland at latitude 41°N.
In Tromsø, the prevailing sentiment is that winter is something to be enjoyed, not something to be endured…full of snow, skiing, the northern lights, and all things koselig, the Norwegian word for “cozy.” By November, open-flame candles would adorn every café, restaurant, home, and even workspace…
Far from a period of absolute darkness, the Polar Night in Tromsø is a time of beautiful colors and soft, indirect light.
Even during the darkest times, there are still two or three hours of light a day as the sun skirts just below the horizon, never fully rising. During the longer “days” of the Polar Night, in November and January, the skies can be filled with up to six hours of sunrise and sunset-like colors.
Educate Your Employees
Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that affects many people, whether they know it or not.
There a number of things your employees can do to help alleviate the symptoms of SAD, including light therapy. But they can’t do anything if they don’t realize or understand what they’re experiencing. That’s where wellness programs and awareness come in.