Can light therapy treat non-seasonal depression too?

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NIH Studies have determined for some time that light therapy can improve the mood of people who feel especially down during the short days of winter. But now a study has found that light therapy also works in treating non-seasonal depression.

The research published in JAMA Psychiatry, is significant because major depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States and wide spread major disability worldwide.

“Light therapy is cheap, easy to use and comes with few side effects compared to medication such as antidepressants”, said lead author Dr. Raymond Lam, professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia. “I think this opens up another treatment option for people with non-seasonal depression and we need more treatment options because not everybody gets better with the standard treatment options.”

Study participants sat in front of a light box for 30 minutes every day right after waking up, around 7-8 a.m. They did not have to actually look at the box and could instead read, watch TV or do other activities. The boxes emitted 10,000 lux, which is the amount of light someone would be exposed to if they went outside at about 7 a.m. during the summer, Lam said.

“Light therapy could also be beneficial because it increases the levels of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, similar to how antidepressant medications work”, Lam said.

Lam and his colleagues followed 122 patients and evaluated whether light therapy improved their mood when it was used both with and without fluoxetine, or Prozac, a commonly prescribed antidepressant.

“Although the light therapy helped many patients, it provided the most benefit to those who were also taking the antidepressant. About 60 percent of those using light therapy with the antidepressant reported feeling almost back to normal”, Lam said.

There has been limited research on light therapy for non-seasonal depression in the past. This study “shows a new, proven-safe treatment of depression that is probably both more effective and less expensive than drug treatment or anything else,” said Dan Kripke, M.D., a psychiatrist and professor emeritus at the University of California, San Diego, who has studied the topic but was not involved in the latest trial.

A 2014 study found that light therapy in combination with sleep deprivation helped reduce depressive symptoms in people with bipolar disorder. Studies have also suggested that light therapy may improve sleep among elderly and people with dementia.

If you find light therapy an interesting option; talk with your doctor to see if the light is a recommended solution. Many insurance companies now cover light therapy if it is prescribed by your doctor.