Why SAD is more than just the winter blues

30 October 2015

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a much misunderstood condition, often dismissed as the winter blues. In severe cases, symptoms require treatment through therapy or medication. Discover the lifestyle measures that can have a positive impact on SAD sufferers, and how they can be translated into your workplace.

SAD is a form of depression that usually occurs between September and March. The exact cause of SAD has yet to be determined, but it’s believed that a lack of sunlight affects a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which is crucial in the production of mood-regulating hormones1. About 20 per cent of the UK population suffers mild symptoms2; but for nearly two million people, SAD is a seriously disabling illness.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of SAD are similar to those of depression, and may include:

  • Feeling irritable, guilty, tearful and having low self-esteem
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Lethargy
  • Sleeping problems – either over or under sleeping
  • Overeating
  • Anxiety
  • A lowered immune system3

Managing SAD in the workplace

Like other kinds of depression, SAD is an illness brought on by a chemical imbalance in the brain. But there are measures you can take in the workplace to help alleviate mild forms of the condition.

  1. 1. Go outdoors
    The weather may not always be inviting in winter, but encourage your employees to leave their desk or get away from their workspace at lunchtime. Experts believe that spending at least an hour outdoors, even on an overcast day, can help alleviate symptoms4

  2. 2. Exercise
    Regular exercise increases levels of endorphins, the so-called ‘happy’ hormone5. One hour of aerobic exercise outside can be as effective as two-and-a-half hours of light treatment6. Suggest organising a lunchtime running club or other form of exercise before or after work.

  3. 3. Let in light
    If your workspace is poorly lit, consider investing in full-spectrum bright lights – which have been proven to alleviate symptoms of mild depression7. For employees who are really struggling, a light box that simulates exposure to sunlight at their desk can be effective for some individuals8.

  4. 4. Medication
    For severe cases, experts recommend SAD should be treated in the same way as other types of depression9, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or medication. CBT can be covered by employee healthcare policy if an employee has access to healthcare insurance.

SAD should never be dismissed as simply the winter blues. Encourage openness about depression in the workplace so adjustments can be made to ensure employees get the help they need. Putting these few small changes into place could help you and your employees get through winter happily and healthily.

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