As the clocks go back and daylight hours get shorter, many of us find that our energy levels and happy outlook dissipate with the change in seasons. For some of us, this is just a feeling that comes during the winter months and is easily shaken off, but for around 1 in 15 people in the UK, it comes with a proper diagnosis – Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
At its most severe, SAD can be completely debilitating for sufferers – but can often be dismissed as just ‘winter blues’. SAD can cause severe depression, anxiety, panic attacks and mood changes, as well as a lack of energy and concentration problems. These symptoms obviously make it difficult for those suffering from SAD to continue working in their normal capacity.
In severe cases, someone with SAD may end up taking a significant amount of time off work. In this case, employers can refer employees who have been off work for four weeks or more to Fit for Work. They will then have a 45-minute consultation with a trained health professional, who will explore in-depth the way they are feeling and what they think is stopping them from doing their job successfully. Working with the employee, the Fit for Work health professional will draw up a Return to Work Plan which can then be shared with the employer, and will contain suggestions of workplace adjustments which may help those suffering from SAD to return to work.
Some of these workplace adjustments could be as simple as installing a light box in the office, which are designed to simulate sunshine and help to increase the production of serotonin, improving someone’s mood; or ensuring employees suffering from SAD sit nearest windows while at work; and even adjusting working hours so that employees with SAD leaves the office before it gets dark at night.
The Return to Work Plan from Fit for Work may also include suggestions for treatment, which could include things like counselling, CBT and light therapy. Most importantly, it’s key to take SAD seriously – SAD is a form of depression, and if someone has been properly diagnosed by their GP, they will need support and help throughout the winter months.
Employers looking for help for employees with SAD symptoms can also call the Fit for Work advice line on 0800 032 6235, or visit the website.