Many people suffer from seasonal depression during the winter months, particularly in areas where there is a drastic change in sunlight hours. As an employer, you may be aware of this condition, but you might be surprised to know how many people are affected by it: According to Cleveland Clinic, about half a million people in the U.S. suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and symptoms include decreased energy, irritability and restlessness, difficulty concentrating and a general lack of focus.

Addressing the issue of seasonal depression with employees will help to open up a dialogue and alleviate stress for employees that may be dealing with the condition. Let your employees know that there are resources to help them. It is important that employees feel that you are in touch with their needs and willing to participate in solutions while also maintaining their privacy.

Here are steps you can take to raise awareness to help affected employees get the help they need:

  • Educate. Have a health care professional speak to your employees. Your health insurance carrier may have resources specific to SAD, and chances are that they can arrange for someone to meet with your workforce. When your employees understand that their feelings are identifiable and can be attributed to a source, it reduces uncertainty and may prompt someone with the condition to seek professional help.
  • Encourage healthier lifestyle choices. Offer opportunities for physical exercise. For example, provide yoga or tai chi during lunch hours or before and after work. Even offering a quiet space for relaxation helps allow people to recharge during their workday. Medline Plus notes that change in weight is linked to depression, including SAD. Address eating habits around the office by making healthier food available. Finally, if possible, try to find a way to increase the amount of sunlight in your office. If that’s not possible, the Mayo Clinic suggests offering light therapy boxes to employees.
  • Change up routines. When energy levels seem to flag and some of your employees are having trouble concentrating, it may be time to incorporate changes in routines. Offer special projects to workers if you can. A volunteer initiative with a portion of the office participating could also serve to take employees’ minds off of the bleak weather. While making sure that normal workflow isn’t disrupted, offer new and interesting activities to help affected employees shake off the winter doldrums.

You should never lose sight of the fact that SAD is a form of depression, and people who struggle with symptoms may experience acute feelings of hopelessness that place them at risk. If you feel that any of your employees are suffering from severe symptoms, it is important to talk to a professional for guidance. Encourage your employees to talk about their feelings with someone whom they trust, and provide information on available mental health resources through your health care provider.

Mary Parsons is retired from a 30-year career in the insurance industry. She worked in the claims department of a major insurance carrier as a claims adjuster, manager and a member of a catastrophe team. Since her retirement, she has developed a career as a freelance writer. As an insurance professional, she has been a contributor to several insurance websites.