People tend to experience depression come winter, thanks to the colder and darker months. Researchers at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University have found a way to counteract the seasonal malaise via light treatment.
Bright light is generally used to help treat the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and now the recent study aims to investigate how light can alleviate the depression that stems from bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder aka manic-depressive illness is a brain disorder that causes shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out day to day tasks. Approximately 3 percent of the US adult population suffers from bipolar disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
The mechanics involve replacing lost sunshine with a daily dose of bright white artificial light. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, antidepressant, psychotherapy and Vitamin D are effective as well. By having a lightbox (aka “happy box”) emit white light, researchers found that people who experienced depression were in remission.
The study, which was published last month in the American Journal of Psychiatry, sought 46 patients who were diagnosed with moderate bipolar depression. Half of the participants were set to receive bright light therapy while the other half received a dim red placebo light. All of them were instructed to stick to their regular medication.
As to ensure patients wouldn’t find out they were split into two groups, they were also instructed not to research light therapy and not to discuss with each other about the treatment.
Participants were told to place the lightbox one foot from their face for a 15-minute session to start. The exposure was then increased each week until it reached 60 minutes per day.
Dorothy Sit, who is the lead author of the study, said patients weren’t required to stare directly at the box.
“They could read the paper, a journal, or look at their bills,” she states.
The results showed 68 percent of patients who used bright light had lower depression rates compared to 22 percent of patients who received the placebo light. The results started to appear after four to six weeks.
Sit said that the patients who underwent bright light therapy resumed normal lives
“…they returned to work, they were able to look after things at home, there were functioning back to their normal selves again,” said Sit.
The researchers, however, advise people with bipolar disorder to not try light therapy on their own.
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