What are your chances of feeling SAD at work this winter…?

Mental health charity MHRUK says lack of natural light puts workers at risk of depression. (pic: istockphoto.com/fotomy)

Mental health charity MHRUK says lack of natural light puts workers at risk of depression. (pic: istockphoto.com/fotomy)

About a one in three chance, according to mental health charity Mental Health Research UK (MHRUK).

With many battling the torrential wind and rain to make it to their desks on time for the new-year return to work, it’s not just the weather and post-Christmas blues that are the problem. Leaving early in the morning when it’s dark, working in an office that has little natural light – and then returning home when it’s dark – is putting workers’ mental health at risk, says MHRUK.

Its survey of 2,000 people showed that 30% leave home in the morning before sunrise and return post-sunset in the evening. If their workplace is also dark, then this can put them at risk of winter depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). One in 10 work all day with insufficient light –and half the people surveyed were concerned that their workplace did not have enough natural light.

MHRUK says it is estimated that a million working hours are lost each hour due to SAD. “The common unhealthy work culture where lunch breaks are frowned upon is a likely contributor to the increasing numbers of SAD sufferers,” says Dr Laura Davidson, mental health barrister and trustee of MHRUK.

The charity is calling on employers to bring more light into the workplace – offering decent lighting in darker areas if natural light is impossible. It is also attempting to counteract the gloom with its Blooming Monday campaign, encouraging workers to ditch the greys and embrace vibrant colours from their wardrobes. Monday 20 January is deemed the gloomiest day of the year – hence giving an excuse to defy the dark and wear more colourful, cheerful clothes to lift the mood.

SAD can affect your energy, appetite and mood. As well as putting yourself in light-filled environments as much as possible, the NHS advises that SAD can be treated with therapy and anti-depressants, where appropriate.

Google searches suggest mental illness is seasonal

There are fewer Google searches on mental illness when summer is in full bloom.

There are fewer Google searches on mental illness when summer is in full bloom.

When the sun’s out and your mood lifts after a seemingly interminable winter, you’re not imagining it if you think you feel better and brighter. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may be more prevalent than previously believed.

Searches on Google suggest that mental illness may have strong links with seasonal patterns, according to research by the Graduate School of Public Health at San Diego State University. Previous studies on mental illness patterns have been done by phone, but may not have been accurate because people can be reluctant to reveal the state of their mental health. But the researchers were able to monitor passively the queries people typed in to Google’s search engine.

The research team monitored mental health queries in the US and Australia between 2006 and 2010. The findings were grouped according to type of mental illness. They found that mental health queries were “consistently higher in winter than in summer”. Examples of this include:

  • Summer searches for eating disorders are down 37% in the US and 42% in Australia compared with winter.
  • Searches for suicide are 24% lower in the US and 29% lower in Australia in the summer.
  • Bipolar Disorder searches are down 16% and 17% in the US and Australia respectively during summer months.

“We didn’t expect to find similar winter peaks and summer troughs for queries involving every specific mental illness or problem we studied. However, the results consistently showed seasonal effects across all conditions,” says James Niels Rosenquist, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The researchers plan to look at other mental illness trends – even down to patterns in mental illness queries on different days of the week.