Are Your Employees Suffering from Winter Blues?

Your employees’ mental health can significantly affect productivity. An annual estimated national productivity cost of $44-$51 billion dollars are due to depression.1 An estimated 15 million US adults are suffering from depression. As colder weather is approaching, more and more people may be feeling the “winter blues.” With the clouded skies outside, ice-cold freezing winds, and maybe even piles of snow, it is easy to feel down and depressed. Some people may be more affected by the weather than others, and it may be a yearly problem that returns every fall/winter. If cold winter depresses you to the point where your ability to function in every day life is affected, you may have a mild or clinical case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). About 20% of the US population suffers from a mild SAD, and 5% of the population has clinically diagnosable SAD.2

Typically, symptoms start during fall or winter as the weather starts changing, and lasts until spring or summer. Seasonal Affective Disorder, a form of Major Depressive Disorder (also known as depression) is recognizable in a couple of different ways. One, SAD occurs only during specific times of the year. If there is no distinctive seasonal pattern, the individual may be suffering from depression, not SAD. Two, although depression manifests different symptoms depending on the person, patients with SAD often show carbohydrate cravings and excessive hunger. Signs of depression may include anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, excessive sleepiness, loss of concentration, fatigue, weight gain or loss.

So what can employers do to improve mental health states of their employees? Leadership engagement through recognizing that strong and healthy mental states is a priority is a good start. If your company is able to afford an in house psychologist who can provide counseling services to your employees, great. If not, even gathering and offering a list of resources or a peer group that are willing to reach out can be helpful. Exercise is an excellent form of depression treatment and prevention. Forming a wellness committee to drive employee engagement in fitness and wellness to reach all parts of the organization, and creating a healthy psychosocial work environment may all be able to contribute towards overall healthy mental states of employees. If your employees are suffering from clinical depression or SAD, let them know that treatment and support is available from many sources and encourage them to seek professional help. Forms of treatment can include antidepressants, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, light therapy (for SAD), counseling, and more.


  1. Stewart WF, Ricci JA, Chee E, Hahn SR, Morganstein D. Cost of lost productive work time among US workers with depression. JAMA. 2003;289:3135–3144.
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