It’s the final stretch of winter for people in the northern parts of the U.S., and while the light-filled days of spring are closer, a significant number of people in your workforce may still be struggling with seasonal affective disorder.
The American Psychiatric Association reports that approximately five percent of Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a seasonal form of depression. The negative effects tend to be particularly strong during the months of January and February. Women and young people are statistically more at risk from SAD and the numbers increase the further you move away from the equator: The National Institute of Mental Health reports that one percent of people in Florida and nine percent of people in New England and Alaska suffer from the disorder.
Depression has a very real effect on the workplace. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, the total economic burden of major depressive disorder was estimated to be $210.5 billion per year in 2010, which signaled a 21.5% increase from $173.2 billion per year in 2005. The number of Americans suffering from depression, anxiety and stress in the seven years since has been on a major upswing.
Here are a few ways you can help employees navigate the impact of SAD during these final months of winter — as well as build new practices for the coming year:
Optimize Natural Lighting
While some people believe SAD is the result of living in colder climates, the main issue is a reduction in sunlight. Design light-filled workspaces and place desks as close as possible to windows. A recent study found that getting the right amount of daylight helped reduce eyestrain and headaches in participants by an astonishing 84 percent.
You may have obstacles, such as windows in older office buildings which often include weather stripping to keep heating and cooling costs down, which can prevent optimal light transfer. If you have areas where natural light is low, consider installing light boxes which provide specialized shades of light.
An ongoing Gallup poll shows that more people are exercising regularly today than they were 10 years ago, yet many struggle with sticking to a consistent fitness regimen. Encourage exercise by building a fitness program, where staff are incentivized to incorporate more action into their days without having to go to the gym on their own time. If you don’t have the resources to run a company-wide initiative, do small things like encouraging people to leave their desks and take invigorating walks in the sunshine at lunchtimes or exploring flexible work options.
Build Dialogue and Support
Employees will need their own support systems and in some cases treatment such as cognitive therapy or medication. Establishing a strong benefits program that includes health insurance and disability insurance helps to reduce the stress of some of these costs. Make sure you’re also facilitating spaces for conversations into the workday. Set up happy hour gatherings once a week or launch company events to boost morale and bring people together for social gatherings. By building a culture that maximizes access to sunlight and activity and strengthens human connections, you’ll help to support the resilience of the people that power your business.