Tackling the winter blues

Dec 06, 2017

winter bluesIt's not officially winter, but many of us may already be experiencing the blues. Less daylight and colder temperatures make many people feel cranky, tired and disinterested. Some may suffer a more debilitating form of the blues, known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD.

"The winter blues can affect a person's health and well-being, enjoyment of life, and how they do their jobs," says WSPS Mental Health Consultant Marie de Boyrie. "Workplaces can make a difference by putting coping mechanisms and skills into the hands of your employees."

Know the signs

Employers, managers, supervisors and employees who have taken Mental Health First Aid training have an advantage. They have learned to recognize signs of declining mental health, including these changes in mood and behaviour:
  • lethargy
  • irritability
  • decreased interest
  • decreased productivity
  • avoidance of social situations
  • more incidents/injuries
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions, and
  • making excuses for missed deadlines or poor work.
"Being able to spot someone who may be struggling is important because stigma prevents people from talking about their mental health issues," says Marie. "It’s hard for them to say, 'I'm off because I'm struggling' or 'my mental health is declining.'"

The training also teaches participants how to approach a person who may be depressed in winter or at any time. The goal is the same as physical first aid which is to offer initial support until appropriate professional help is available.

Offer a variety of solutions

"Offer resources and services that people can tap into through the organization's EAP," says Marie. "A lot of people think the EAP is about counselling, but it’s so much more than that."

Employers can provide written information on winter depression and SAD. Treatment for SAD, which is linked to changes in circadian rhythm, and lasts from fall to spring, usually involves phototherapy for 30 to 90 minutes. SAD lights are available from a number of sources.

For other workplace programs, think outside the box. "The lack of daylight hours in winter disrupts the flow of activity we enjoy doing outdoors," explains Marie. "It also isolates people."

Workplace activities in the morning or at lunch can build a sense of community while providing coping mechanisms. Examples include:
  • yoga or boot camp can help people feel invigorated
  • a walking group - an hour of sunlight can help reduce symptoms
  • mindfulness and meditation workshops to build resilience
  • book clubs that refocus the mind
  • lunch ’n learns on simple ways to integrate wellness for mental health
  • breathing techniques to reduce stress, and
  • healthy eating workshops - a poor diet often comes with depression.
If you're unable to offer these resources in-house, connect employees to community resources. This will give employees the opportunity to interact with people outside the organization who might have similar issues.

How we can help

WSPS consultants can help you develop a mental health program and train staff, and conduct lunch 'n learns and awareness sessions on winter depression.

Take Mental Health First Aid training. Train your employees to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental disorders and provide appropriate assistance.

Check out thinkmentalhealth.ca, a new website offering free online resources that can help your business create a psychologically healthy workplace.