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Seasonal depression: when professionals 'slow down' against their choosing

Megan Mantle – CEO, Workhorse Health Inc., MSW, RSW, Psychotherapist, Crisis Intervention Specialist

Disclaimer: Neither my comments or experience are a substitute for medical advice. However, I have worked alongside psychiatrists in Toronto-area Emergency Departments for over a decade and support many clients who struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Against the backdrop of World Mental Health Day on October 10, 2022 and the $1 trillion cost of mental illness to workplaces, seasonal depression is highly relevant topic for Canadians.

Seasonal depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is a cluster of symptoms experienced typically during fall, winter, and early months of spring when there is a less daylight available. It is a condition influenced by environment and genetics that affects physical and mental state. Common psychological changes include slowed processing speed and decreased mental clarity, and physical symptoms like lethargy, overeating/craving sugar, and decreased physical stamina.

Professionals tell our team they adjust to these unwanted changes with increased caffeine intake and exercise in order to maintain functioning and productivity during this off-season.

But SAD can be improved within 2 weeks by incorporating a cost-fee treatment: sunlight.

Exposure to daylight can lift mood, it’s accessible, and achievable anytime. A SAD light or other light therapies can also be used to mimic the sun and provide a similar effect. Evidence also suggests that SAD could be prevented altogether with the proper strategies in place.

Additional considerations for readers include pediatric onset, heavy genetic loading for disease (family history), comorbidity with substance abuse and Bipolar Affective Disorders, and sleep.

Final thoughts: While the experience of SAD can be a temporary imprisonment for many high-functioning professional people given decreased productivity, quality work product, and resulting frustration that accompanies it, help is available through a family doctor, a psychiatrist, or other healthcare professional who can assist with symptom relief and practical tools to optimize daily functioning both during and after formal office hours.

24/7, Canada’s suicide prevention hotline is available to clients at 1-833-456-4566, visit your nearest Emergency Department, or call 9-1-1.

In summary, clients can re-gain control over SAD by incorporating:

1. Sunlight

2. Healthcare support from a family doctor (Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia), psychiatrist, or other health professional

3. Suicide prevention


American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), American Psychiatric Association, Arlington, VA 2013.

Magnusson A, Partonen T. The diagnosis, symptomatology, and epidemiology of seasonal affective disorder. CNS Spectr. 2005 Aug;10(8):625-34; quiz 1-14. doi: 10.1017/s1092852900019593. PMID: 16041294.

Meesters Y, Dekker V, Schlangen LJ, Bos EH, Ruiter MJ. Low-intensity blue-enriched white light (750 lux) and standard bright light (10,000 lux) are equally effective in treating SAD. A randomized controlled study. BMC Psychiatry. 2011 Jan 28;11:17. doi: 10.1186/1471-244X-11-17. PMID: 21276222; PMCID: PMC3042929.

Nussbaumer B, Kaminski-Hartenthaler A, Forneris CA, Morgan LC, Sonis JH, Gaynes BN, Greenblatt A, Wipplinger J, Lux LJ, Winkler D, Van Noord MG, Hofmann J, Gartlehner G. Light therapy for preventing seasonal affective disorder. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Nov 8;(11):CD011269. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD011269.pub2. Update in: Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019 Mar 18;3:CD011269. PMID: 26558494.

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