Dark Days, Depressing Haze…and How to Find the Light

 

The_Night_Before_Christmas_1905_still.pngAh, the holiday season: ’tis the most wonderful season, for some: for others, though, not so much.

Yes, this article is about depression. And if you have read any of my other blogs (if you haven’t, please feel free to go back and do so), then you might not want to call me the bringer of good cheer: last month I wrote about employee theft during the holiday shopping season, the month before about bullying.

I like to think of myself as your designated problem-solver. I’m pointing out problems so you can solve them before they ruin your holiday festivities.

This month’s problem: depression, loneliness and possibly even suicide could affect some of your employees this winter.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

One thing to note from the beginning, while increased depression and suicide rates might seem to be correlated to the holiday season, some studies say there is no link. Instead, it is winter itself, and not the holiday joy of everyone around them, that makes some people feel, well, depressed.  

In fact, the Center for Disease Control has conducted studies that show suicide actually is highest in the spring, though it cannot tell you why. However, a possible suggestion for this phenomenon could still go back to seasonal affective disorder, which is the name given to winter-linked depression. 

When spring arrives, individuals with seasonal affective disorder tend to return to their old, happy selves. But many of those with year-long depression are stuck with the burden of their condition.

But why would winter get people down to begin with? There are several reasons that this might occur:

  • Days are shorter and darker (light or the lack thereof is linked to energy levels, fatigue, hunger, mood, and many other aspects affecting depression);
  • It’s colder and drearier (depending on where you live), which can result in cabin fever;
  • The lack of sunlight can cause drops in serotonin levels;
  • The change in seasons can affect your circadian rhythm, i.e., your sleep cycle.

Help!

If depression increases in the winter, and suicide increases at the end of winter, now might just be the time for you the employer to step in and do something about it.

How?

  • Have an Employee Assistance Program? Advertise it! Send out email reminders about the program and explain how it can help. Hang up a poster or memo on the bulletin board. (You might want to mention any confidentiality components of the program as well).
  • Educate. Make a point to send employees information on depression (especially seasonal affective disorder) and suicide. Teach them the signs, causes, and statistics so that they know they are not alone. Tell them how they can get help (maybe through that EAP discussed above).
  • Beat stress. Though this is something that can, and should, be done all year long, come up with some extra ways to decrease stress during this season. Maybe have a winter party, stop holding 8 o’clock meetings, or refrain from giving one person the workload of four people (or discuss these options with managers and supervisors). 
  • Show encouragement and appreciation for a job well done.

In Conclusion…

Happy, healthy (whether mentally or physically) employees make happy, healthy workplaces (and workplaces with lower healthcare costs and higher productivity).

You might not be able to solve winter depression for every employee, but you can help some of them – which should make your winter days that much more sunny!

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