For some people, the first snowfall can be a sign that some serious winter blues are on the way.
Seasonal depression impacts about 5 percent of adults in the United States, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Officially known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, it's a condition that can translate to significant workplace challenges.
Make this time of year easier by understanding the disorder and finding ways to support workers with seasonal depression.
Why the Season Can Impact Mood
Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that most commonly starts in the fall and continues into winter. Symptoms include tension or anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, mood swings and irritability. Workers with seasonal depression might also have trouble sleeping, be lethargic or overeat. Most people first experience symptoms in their twenties or thirties, and 4 out of 5 of those affected are women. People who live farther from the equator are more at risk.
Why do some people feel worse during the winter? As the days get shorter, we see less sunlight and our bodies produce less serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression. Meanwhile, the production of melatonin — a hormone that affects sleep patterns and mood — also increases when the days are shorter and darker. Melatonin can disrupt sleep rhythms and cause symptoms associated with seasonal affective disorder.
Addressing SAD Among Members
Union members who suffer from seasonal affective disorder might start showing up late to work, picking fights with fellow workers or falling behind on the job. They could also become distracted and disengaged during union meetings, duties and events.
The board can help by driving awareness of the disorder. Consider including a blurb about it in the union's newsletter, outlining some of the basic symptoms of SAD and where to get help. It may also be a good idea to make an announcement with useful SAD information during a meeting. Offer to act as a point of contact if any members want someone to guide them toward the right resources and help.
If your health plan includes mental health benefits, tell members which treatments and services will be covered. Often, those who suffer from the disorder benefit from phototherapy, which suppresses the brain's secretion of melatonin. Some also get help from antidepressant drugs. You can also offer advice on how to reduce stress to curb some of the symptoms of SAD. Consider holding a meditation session during an upcoming meeting, bringing in a few massage therapists one day for chair massages or recommending that members participate in these activities on their own.
Making sure that members are engaged, happy and safe entails more than just helping them avoid injuries on the job. Many members might not even recognize that their negative feelings during the winter months can be treated. Educating them on how to assess their changing health needs will allow the union to play a stronger role in its members' lives.
With 15 years' experience writing for publications including The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, The Christian Science Monitor and Newsday—Deborah Blumberg specializes in business and finance and health and wellness. She writes about topics including corporate communications, financial markets, real estate, renewable energy, cancer, health education, nutrition, supplements, the microbiome and functional medicine. She was a Knight Center fellow and a Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism fellow. Her time working in marketing and communications at JPMorgan Chase taught her how to best tell a company's story. She's adept at turning complex ideas into compelling copy. She's also an officer of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and a Women in the Visual and Literary Arts board member, and she is fluent in Spanish.