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About Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is exacerbated by gray overcast skies and poor indoor lighting. Some common symptoms of SAD are:
- Feeling lethargic;
- Irritability and stress intolerance; and
- Lack of interest in daily activities, sex, or social interactions.
Treatment for SAD usually involves medication combined with light therapy. Light therapy is exposure to high intensity bright lights, typically referred to as light or sun boxes. An individual spends a period of time each day exposed to this light, and treatment can last from 30 minutes to 2 hours per day. Many of these light boxes are portable and can be placed on a desk or table in the work environment.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and the Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA does not contain a definitive list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA defines a person with a disability as someone who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more "major life activities," (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).
Accommodating Employees with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
People with seasonal affective disorder may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people with SAD will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.
Four basic light products are available to accommodate workers with SAD:
- Sun Boxes and Lights: These are rectangular light fixtures that have several fluorescent tubes that produce between 5,000 and 10,000 lux and come in many different sizes and styles.
- Light Visors: These are head-mounted light sources that resembling tennis visors and are good choices for people who do not have sedentary jobs or need to be mobile during the day.
- Sun Simulating Desk Lamps: These resemble typical office lamps.
- Dawn Simulators: These are devices that mimic natural sunrises by gradually brightening rooms over programmed periods of time.
JAN's Accommodation Solutions: Executive Functioning Deficits is a publication detailing accommodations for individuals with limitations related to executive functioning. These ideas may be helpful in determining accommodations.
Questions to Consider:
- What limitations is the employee experiencing?
- How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
- What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
- What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
- Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
- Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?
Situations and Solutions:
The following situations and solutions are real-life examples of accommodations that were made by JAN customers. Because accommodations are made on a case-by-case basis, these examples may not be effective for every workplace but give you an idea about the types of accommodations that are possible.
A grocery store bagger with seasonable affective disorder (SAD) had difficulty working an early schedule due to oversleeping.
She also experienced fatigue and depression during late fall and winter months. She was accommodated with an afternoon schedule and was moved to the front of the store, which had windows that let sunlight enter her workspace.
A driver with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) who picks up and delivers clients to various appointments began to forget waiting clients as well as the routes she needed to travel in order to deliver them to the appropriate facility.
When her employer mentioned the mistakes, the driver broke down. She described her depression and anxiety with the change of seasons and how it affected her memory. The use of reminder apps, as well as those to help with directions, were discussed as possible accommodation solutions.
Due to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) an elementary teacher experienced temporary but extreme fatigue that was expected to persist for several months due to a change in medication and the onset of winter.
He was accommodated with the removal of two extra duty requirements. Job restructuring, which consisted of temporarily removing his early and late bus duties, caused no hardship to the employer and greatly reduced his expenditure of depleted energy.
Due to her limitations from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), an office worker requested to move from her current location within a sea of cubicles to an office with windows.
Because offices were provided to management only, the employer moved the employee’s cubicle to the side of the “sea” where a bank of windows actually provided more natural light than any of the offices would have.
An architect in a large, busy, open office space requested a private workspace (on the sunny side of the building) to help her handle stress and emotions brought on by the open, crowded, and often noisy environment.
Her employer agreed to her requested accommodations for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but also provided telework as an option as well as flexible scheduling for when the employee was particularly stressed while under firm deadlines.
An employee at a manufacturing site had been successfully working the second shift with seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
He experienced fatigue and difficulty with concentration due to disruption of his sleep patterns and couldn’t work the early shift a new manager assigned him to. The employee was accommodated with the ability to remain on his current shift. The new manager found many employees willing to switch and work the day shift.
JAN Publications & Articles Regarding Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Consultants' Corner Articles
- Accommodations Beyond Job Performance = Compliance and Inclusion
- Cognitive Impairment and the Interactive Process
- I Understand You Are Stressed...But Aren’t We All?
- Return to Work After Hospitalization for Mental Health Treatment
- Suicidal Ideation in the Workplace
- Supporting Employees with Mental Health and Cognitive Conditions while Teleworking