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How Employers Can Support Staff Experiencing Seasonal Depression

As the seasons shift and daylight hours decrease, many people find their mood and energy levels affected. You may notice that it’s still dark outside when you start your workday, and maybe also when you leave in the evening. When the days are shorter and the nights are longer, feeling less motivated or even just generally “down” is common. Many people experience “winter blues,” but an estimated 10 million people in the U.S experience a type of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), sometimes called, “seasonal depression.”

Your organization can support employees who are experiencing seasonal affective disorder. The first step is for you and your leadership and management teams to be able to recognize the signs that someone is facing more than your average winter blues, as it may be depression. Remember to keep in mind that there are a variety of indicators of depression that can vary from person to person and in the workplace. For example, you may notice an emerging pattern where someone misses deadlines, procrastinates, comes in late or is withdrawn in group settings where they weren’t before.

A few other common signs and symptoms of depression include:

  • Irritability or sudden mood swings.
  • Appearing more unkempt than usual.
  • Flat voice that doesn’t change in tone or speaking more softly than usual.
  • Frequently skipping meals or group lunches.
  • Being easily moved to tears or having frequent crying spells.
  • Difficulty concentrating or completing tasks.
  • Mentioning sleep changes, like frequently remarking about being “tired” or “not sleeping well”.
  • Making comments about self-injury or suicide.

It’s important to check in with employees regularly to make sure they feel supported and comfortable in the workplace. If you notice a serious change in behavior in an employee, they may be in need of extra support. It is important to note that many workplaces require you to speak with human resources (HR) if you suspect that someone is struggling before approaching them for a conversation. Your organization’s guidelines may require that HR continue or be involved in the conversation, so make sure to adhere to your company policy.

Your HR department is also a great team to ask about your company’s mental health and support resources that they have available to employees. You can also check in on policies regarding time off and encourage your employees to take mental health days.

You can check in with your employee in need by asking them to speak in private, if they feel comfortable. And you can use these phrases from the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) curriculum to get the conversation started:

  • “Is something bothering you?”
  • “Would you like to talk?”
  • “I’ve noticed you’ve been less focused than usual and I wondered if you are OK.”

When checking in, remember to always listen nonjudgmentally and have resources available to offer if they express needing more support. Other things like encouraging a short walk outside at lunch time, a daily meditation or a non-work check-in are all ways to show support for your employees’ mental wellbeing. Though we spend a lot of our lives at work, we are more than just our job titles.

You can continue to #BeTheDifference for your employees by bringing Mental Health First Aid at Work to your workplace, so you and your employees can know the signs and feel prepared to take care of themselves and support their peers during all seasons of the year.

To learn more about MHFA at Work, visit MHFA.org/workplace and complete the inquiry form.

References:

Deutsch, Kristen. (2022, January 29). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in the workplace. New Focus HR. https://newfocushr.com/2022/02/04/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad-in-the-workplace/

National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Seasonal affective disorder. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder

Mental Health First Aid USA. (2020). Mental Health First Aid USA Manual. National Council for Mental Wellbeing.

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