Helping Employees Cope with Seasonal Depression

Seasonal depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a disorder that manifests itself during certain seasons and could impact your employees.

What Is Seasonal Depression

Seasonal depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is a serious disorder that could impact your employees. As its name suggests, SAD manifests itself during certain seasons. Most people who have seasonal depression usually experience the symptoms in the fall and winter months. Some people do experience SAD symptoms in the spring and summer months, but it is less common.

SAD is more common during the fall and winter months because the natural rhythm of the Earth causes life to slow down. Days are shorter, the temperature drops significantly, and it can seem unnatural to keep the same pace during the winter as we do in the summer. The decrease in sunlight we see during the winter — especially for those who work in the office — can affect our circadian rhythm (also known as our biological clock) and cause our bodies’ levels of serotonin and melatonin to fluctuate and affect our moods. Because of this, the farther from the equator you live, the more likely you are to have symptoms of seasonal depression.

What Are the Symptoms of Seasonal Depression?

Some noticeable symptoms of seasonal depression are the same as or similar to those of clinical depression. These symptoms can include:

  • Tiredness and lack of energy
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Persistent sad or depressed mood
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Failing to enjoy once pleasurable activities
  • Irritability

Some symptoms that a person experiencing SAD might be feeling, but not outwardly exhibiting, could include:

  • Oversleeping or changes in sleep patterns
  • Weight gain
  • Changes in appetite
  • Personal relationship strain
  • Feelings of heaviness or helplessness

It is important to note that seasonal depression does not mean you are clinically depressed or have a higher risk of becoming clinically depressed. 

Seasonal depression affects everyone differently. Each individual has his or her own internal resources and support system for dealing with SAD symptoms. While this might be a very personal issue for your employees, it can affect you as an employer. Thankfully, there are some approaches you can take and some things you can do to help your employee through seasonal depression.

How You Can Help

If you suspect one or more of your employees is experiencing symptoms of SAD, there are a number of ways you can be supportive and help them through this difficult period.

  • Institute an open door policy: Letting your employees know that they can talk to you when they are having a rough time at work or at home could be paramount in how they cope with SAD or other emotional issues they might be having. Let them know they can also speak with someone in the human resources department if they would be more comfortable doing so.
  • Allow for flexibility: Give your employees as much flexibility as you are able to accommodate. Allowing them to shift their work hours can make a big difference in their productivity and mood, especially if their schedule prevents them from exposure to the sun during shorter periods of daylight.
  • Encourage them to see a doctor or professional therapist: If you think an employee’s symptoms merit a visit to the doctor or a professional therapist, let them know they can take time during their workday to go to an appointment. The doctor will help give them strategies for coping with SAD.

If your employees aren’t feeling like their usual selves, they can’t be expected to perform their best work. Encourage your employees to view you and their other superiors and colleagues as part of their support system and as a group of mentors who are invested in their wellbeing and their ability to do their jobs well. By providing the right support, you can help your employees live more fulfilling lives and be more successful at work.