Insurance 6 October 2017

Could your employees be suffering with seasonal affective disorder?

Motivating each other
Exercise can alleviate the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder

Writing for Business Advice, the co-founder of mental health clinic Smart TMS, Dr Leigh Neal, tells owners more about the effects of seasonal affective disorder and the impact it could have amongst their staff.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is generally first experienced in October in the UK, and with around one in five people experiencing symptoms each year, there’s a real risk “the winter blues” could take effect in your small business.

A few years ago, the term seasonal affective disorder became the latest in a line of health concerns to enter popular imagination and dialogue, partly due to its catchy acronym – SAD.

Many people talk about seasonal affective disorder, or winter blues, referring to feelings of lethargy and depression that occur during winter months. But what is SAD and could it seriously be impacting your wellbeing?

As the UK prepared to mark World Suicide Prevention Day in September, it’s worth taking a look at the seasonal depression that could be causing distress for thousands of UK workers.

SAD actually impacts one in five of us and usually sets in sometime around October, becoming most severe around January and February.

The severity of symptoms differs from person to person. Only 3 per cent of us will suffer with the most severe form of seasonal affective disorder.

Sufferers notice a significant reduction in energy levels during winter months and often feel less inclined to socialise. They may also experience a change in appetite and sleep patterns, irritability or feelings of despair.

Symptoms can disappear altogether during spring and summer months, and then return again during the autumn.

Confusingly, there is such a thing as reverse SAD, a version of seasonal affective disorder in which sufferers notice a worsening of symptoms during summer months. This variation is relatively rare.

SAD is a form of depression. It is related to changes in season and exposure to sunlight. In the UK, we experience significant changes in the levels of daylight we are exposed to from winter to summer, making us particularly susceptible to seasonal affective disorder.

The exact reasons why people suffer from SAD are still relatively unknown, although many people suggest that lack of sunlight exposure can impact our hormone levels, particularly melatonin and serotonin – the hormones that have a direct impact on our mood, appetite and sleep patterns.

As with any form of depression, there are several options for treatment. As well as talking therapies, some patients opt to ease symptoms using antidepressants or by making changes to lifestyle. There is also a new option available – transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

How do you choose a treatment? For less severe sufferers, lifestyle changes can make a big difference. Take a look at your day to see if there are any opportunities to increase the amount of time you spend outdoors during daylight hours – even when the weather is cloudy.

Make an effort to spend as much time as possible outdoors, particularly in the middle of the day when the sun is at its strongest. Where possible, try not to give in to the temptation to shut yourself away indoors. Although tempting, this can actually reduce exposure to sunlight and cause symptoms to worsen.

Regular exercise (particularly outdoors) and a healthy diet can also help to ease symptoms and maintain overall wellbeing, whilst several specialist light boxes for SAD are also available to buy online.

Light boxes are designed to replicate the light from the sun. Sitting near a light box for 30 to 60 minutes a day can help to reduce symptoms of SAD. Sunrise alarm clocks can also be very helpful.

If you are experiencing severe changes of mood and wellbeing at any time of year, consult your doctor and talk to them about your treatment options. Doctors may prescribe antidepressant medications. If this is the case, make sure to check that tablets do not increase drowsiness, as this could increase your symptoms.

If you or someone you know is dreading the arrival of the winter months and the change in mood they bring, you may be suffering from SAD.

There’s no need to suffer in silence. If SAD is impacting the quality of your daily life, consider making small lifestyle changes to ease symptoms, or for more severe cases, consider seeking out a treatment that helps you to manage your symptoms and continue living your life.

Dr Leigh Neal is co-founder of Smart TMS, a clinic for the treatment of mental health.

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