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Work and seasonal affective disorder - how to have a better winter

Seasonal affective disorder or SAD is known to have a bigger impact in the UK during the darker months of December, January and February. This year, many are potentially facing a tougher January and February with SAD, following periods of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, which have limited how much time we spend outdoors; whether that’s proactively exercising or going about our once normal day-to-day life of commuting, shopping and meeting friends in public.

As an employer, manager or leader, you may be left wondering if helping your colleagues suffering from SAD is within your jurisdiction. Fortunately, there are several things that you can do which integrate nicely within a wider mental health and wellbeing strategy. For those organisations currently working remotely or flexibly around what was once a fully occupied HQ, some tweaks to your approach will ensure that you can continue to support those who need your input.

NHS England lays out four key areas of treatment for SAD: lifestyle measures, light therapy, talking therapies and antidepressant medication. Considering each of these in turn will provide actionable tactics to incorporate into your mental health and wellbeing strategy.

1. Lifestyle measures

Getting enough natural sunlight, exercising and keeping stress levels in check make for a cornerstone of managing SAD. In office-based settings, wellbeing policies could quite easily be crafted to encourage breaks and a proper lunch, whilst organising group exercise over lunch or for those who could attend before or after work.

If your employees are physically disbanded at the moment, the onus will be on you and your leadership team to communicate the need for a break and - if possible - a walk over the course of the working day. Pivoting your corporate benefits package to offer online group exercise can help those who enjoy the burn maintain a healthy habit.

Similarly, office policies to manage workload mustn't go by the wayside if and when teams are working remotely. You may find that workload planning sessions are effective forums for colleagues to take on and reallocate work based on their schedules. There’s nothing to stop this still occurring over a “power hour” on Google Meet, Microsoft Teams or Zoom.

Throughout the pandemic, it has become increasingly apparent that allowing colleagues to talk is conducive to mental wellbeing. We will cover more of this when looking at talking therapies, but it is noteworthy that different individuals express concerns over their workload in different ways. If a planning forum isn’t quite right, you can ask for any problems to be raised by a certain time in the week via an email or a private IM channel.

2. Light therapy

Light therapy uses a specific lamp to simulate sunlight - and its positive effects on the body’s circadian rhythm. Can your organisation provide light therapy for those who request a workplace adjustment? Whilst many are sending wrist rests, foot supports and secondary screens to home addresses following risk assessments, a light box is just as transportable.

Fleshing out your office or home-based risk assessment into a more rounded wellbeing assessment will enable you to capture requests from those suffering from the effects of SAD and act accordingly. This is especially important during the pandemic, given that a recent ACAS-commissioned YouGov survey found that homeworking was leaving colleagues feeling more out of sight and out of mind - and, consequently, more stressed.

3. Talking therapies

Talking therapies can be a real help when it comes to SAD, in helping the individual to examine, explore and better understand their feelings and behaviour in an environment that they feel comfortable with. Where employers can help is on two scores:

  • Having trained mental health first aiders to spot the signs of an employee in distress and be confident in communicating with them, in a way that is empathetic and encourages them to seek support.

  • Providing a business healthcare initiative that doesn’t focus solely on physical health but also has robust support for mental health needs.

Whilst we’re not suggesting that employers should try to provide their own counselling services, it is possible to evolve a culture where talking about mental health and wellbeing is not stigmatic and, in fact, encouraged. This openness, from the top down, means that those who need help with a condition such as SAD don’t remain silent.

And if you’re looking for medical support, consider introducing an employee healthcare provision like Benenden Health that includes mental health counselling support and helplines.

4. Antidepressant medication

In some cases, a clinician may prescribe antidepressants - such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) - to help combat the disruption to hormone levels that is associated with SAD. As with talking therapies, bosses can help by identifying a need and then offering the correct professional intervention to help a team member through their experience of SAD.

Tying it all together

Helping your team to get a handle on SAD is a combined effort of giving them choices to put them in the driving seat of their wellbeing, whilst ensuring that appropriate professional help is there if and when required.

Benenden Health for Business achieves all of this, all at once. Our healthcare proposition is affordable, at just £11.90 per employee per month, allowing your team to access a 24/7 mental health helpline, book private consultations and make use of a 24/7 GP and prescription helpline. We firmly believe that helping in a holistic manner is the best approach for wellbeing, which is why your membership will allow everyone to access a full range of healthcare benefits, from musculoskeletal services through to counselling.

We will work with you not only to develop an affordable and bespoke package for your team, but to ensure that everyone feels confident and comfortable in accessing our services.

The stakes may be higher than normal this January and February when it comes to SAD: let’s discuss the positive action we can take on your behalf to help anyone affected by this condition in your workplace.

Find out how Benenden Healthcare for Business could support your employees:

Got a question and want to know more? Call us FREE on 0800 414 8179.