Project Description

Does the weather affect your outlook on the day or your energy level? Does the amount of daylight or sunny days affect you? I don’t know about you, but I feel more energetic during a string of sunny days than I do during a string of cloudy, dreary days. Most of us are impacted only temporarily by the changes in daylight and sunlight. Approximately 1 to 2 percent of Americans and 2 to 3 percent of Canadians live with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This also varies greatly based largely on geography. For instance, up to nearly 10 percent of the residents of Alaska live with seasonal affective disorder.

What is seasonal affective disorder? Medically speaking, it is a form of depression called “Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern.” It recurs regularly at certain times of the year for an extended period, usually beginning in late Fall or Winter and lasting into Spring (which is referred to as the winter pattern of SAD). Some people, however, experience episodes of SAD during the summer months, and this is referred to as the summer pattern of SAD.

In addition to the normal symptoms of depression, additional symptoms of the winter pattern of SAD include the following:
• Oversleeping (hypersomnia)
• Overeating
• Weight gain
• Craving carbohydrates
• Low energy
• Social withdrawing

Symptoms of the summer pattern of SAD include the following:
• Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
• Poor appetite
• Weight loss
• Restlessness and agitation
• Anxiety

Here are some notable statistics we know about SAD:
• It affects people mostly ages 18 to 30.
• Females are four times more likely to be affected than men.
• It is thought to be related to the disruption in the circadian rhythm, or our biological clock.
• There is a drop in melatonin and serotonin levels with the winter pattern of SAD.
• There is an increase of melatonin levels with the summer pattern of SAD.

There are existing treatments for SAD. The most common treatments are:
Light therapy – involves an individual sitting in front of a bright light box for 30-45 minutes each day.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – a type of talk therapy conducted in group sessions that is focused on replacing negative thoughts.
Antidepressant medications – the most common medications include fluoxetine, citalopram,
paroxetine, escitalopram and bupropion.
Vitamin D.

One of the illnesses that our oldest son lived with was SAD. He found the use of a light box to be helpful during the winter months. I now know that some people living with bipolar disorder, such as our son, also live with seasonal affective disorder.

Longtime readers know one of my main points with mental illnesses are that they should be treated the same as physical illnesses. If you have an employee exhibiting early symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, would you help?

I know many employers that would assist them with the purchase of wrist guards, and/or a different computer platform to help reduce their symptoms. Carpal tunnel is a physical medical condition that is easier to recognize and understand. While SAD is more difficult to diagnose and see, it is also a medical
condition. Just as you would help with carpal tunnel, you could help employees living with SAD with a light box and allowing them to use it during the work day.

In both cases, you’re helping improve your employee’s well-being and helping enhance their performance. One of the many things I learned while leading Swanson Youngdale for over 30 years was that employees who feel valued and appreciated and who believe you are looking out for their interests, often tend to be the best, most-engaged and most productive employees.

Sources for this blog included the following: National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org), Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinochealthsystem.org), American Psychiatric Association (apa@psych.org) and the National Institute of Mental Health (www.nimh.gov).