This week, the clocks change from British Summer Time (BST) to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), in order to ‘fall back’ into autumn. The nights have slowly been drawing in for a while now and, though most of us may revel in the extra hour in bed on Monday morning, approximately one in fifteen people in the UK will already be feeling the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Despite often being dismissed as ‘winter blues’, SAD is a form of depression that – in severe cases – can sometimes be so disabling that sufferers cannot function in winter without continuous treatment. Meanwhile, others may experience a milder, sub-syndromal SAD.

Normally appearing around October and lasting until March/April, symptoms of SAD include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping and lethargy
  • Overeating
  • Apathy and loss of motivation or in interest in work and social life
  • Weakened immune system

As many people living in the northern or southern hemispheres can empathise with ‘winter blues’ when the days grow darker, SAD can be difficult to diagnose. A diagnosis is usually given after the subject has experienced two or more consecutive winters of continuous symptoms. But with various misconceptions and stigma attached to Seasonal Affective Disorder, what can you do, as an employer, to support employees with depression during the winter months?

Little changes can make all the difference

Don’t be afraid to sensitively discuss your employee’s symptoms with them. This will help you both try to plan for the months ahead and minimise any stress or work pressures during the winter.

Though being outdoors during the winter months is far from a cure for SAD sufferers, making the most of natural light can help alleviate symptoms – even if only temporarily. As a result, working in an office between the hours of 9am and 5pm isn’t always the best routine for SAD sufferers. Give you employee as much opportunity to be exposed to natural light as possible, whether that’s working from home; utilising flexi-time; taking a longer lunch break – or more frequent breaks, etc.

Encourage annual leave

Encouraging your team to take annual leave often increases employee wellbeing and productivity, as well as making your workforce feel valued. If appropriate, try to encourage employees with SAD to take a trip somewhere warmer and brighter, as a holiday to a sunnier climate is likely to reduce symptoms. Otherwise, a few days off to enjoy full days of natural daylight – even in the UK – may do the world of good.

Invest in a light box

Light therapy is a popular treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder, as it can provide the amount of bright light to help regulate the hormones that affect our mood. Investing in a light box – like the one pictured below – for your employee to use at work or at home, can be effective in alleviating the symptoms of SAD.

Light boxes are not available on the NHS, so investing in one to support your employee’s SAD will not only help alleviate symptoms, but will also make your employee feel valued and that their condition is understood and respected.

Employ an EAP

Nearly half of the UK’s workforce have access to an Employee Assistance Programme.  Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) can help employers with their health and employee wellbeing initiatives in several ways, via counselling and advice, training, coaching and more. With an EAP from CiC, you can support employees with mental health issues, as well as promote health and wellbeing in your workplace and make your whole workforce feel valued.

For more information about how CiC can support your organisation with EAP, please get in touch today.