Short winter days plus cold weather that keeps us inside can send our moods into a nosedive. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, up to 15% of Canadians suffer from the "winter blues" and another 5% from the more debilitating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
These disorders can affect an employee's health and well-being as well as their functional ability and performance quality, says WSPS Mental Health Consultant Krista Schmid. "Safety, productivity, engagement and customer service can all be compromised."
Help keep employees safe and engaged by taking the following six steps.
- Open a dialogue to destigmatize depression. Consider bringing in an expert who can talk about seasonal depression and SAD and open the topic up for discussion. "This will help to normalize it in the workplace, and encourage employees to come forward if they need help," says Krista. In place of an expert, distribute information and spell out what help is available to employees.
- Empower employees with personal coping strategies. Lack of light is the culprit behind winter depression and SAD. Treatment for SAD usually involves light therapy for 30 to 90 minutes a day. SAD lights are available from a number of sources. Here are some other things employees can do for themselves:
- spend more time outside during daylight hours
- eat a balanced diet and get adequate sleep
- join a group or volunteer; choose something uplifting
- engage in physical activities to boost energy and well-being, and reduce stress
- seek professional counselling
- develop a resiliency plan to help them adapt to or recover from adversity
- develop a support network - friends, family, and doctor - to ease feelings of isolation or depression
- Recognize when someone needs help. SAD, and to a lesser degree winter blues, are characterized by a low mood, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, fatigue, faulty memory, irritability, decreased interest and productivity, and slow reaction time. Train managers, supervisors and your joint health and safety committee members in Mental Health First Aid so they can recognize signs of depression and offer support. "It's about reaching out when someone is acting differently," says Krista, "not judging."
- Provide workplace accommodation. "It's not about turning the world upside down. It's a tweak here, an adjustment there," says Krista. Accommodation might include access to a SAD light, flexible hours, ensuring people take their breaks, or simply moving a workstation closer to a window. "Ask each employee what would work best for them."
- Offer onsite activities to build a sense of community and provide coping mechanisms. Examples include:
- yoga or boot camp
- a walking group
- mindfulness and meditation workshops
- book clubs on refocusing the mind
- lunch & learns on simple ways to integrate wellness for mental health
- breathing techniques to reduce stress
- healthy eating workshops
- Provide mental health resources. Make sure employees know what's available to them through their benefits plan, the company's EAP program, and in the community.
How we can help
WSPS consultants can help you develop a mental health program, train staff, and conduct lunch & learns and awareness sessions on winter depression.
Train your employees to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental disorders and provide appropriate assistance with Mental Health First Aid.
Check out thinkmentalhealth.ca, which offers free online resources to help you create a psychologically healthy workplace. The site also includes resources for employees.