Depressed? Keep It Light

Light therapy might be effective for non-seasonal depression


Medication and talk therapy aren't the only treatments for depression.

Light therapy may effectively treat patients with non-seasonal depression, too, a new study found.

"These results are very exciting because light therapy is inexpensive, easy to access and use, and comes with few side effects," said lead study author Dr. Raymond Lam, a University of British Columbia professor and psychiatrist at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, in a press release. "Patients can easily use light therapy along with other treatments such as antidepressants and psychotherapy."

In light therapy, patients are exposed to light from a light box, which mimics sunlight, for a specified amount of time. This therapy is a well-known treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a seasonal depression thought to be tied to reduced or increased levels of natural light.

But the current study is among the first to find that light therapy might improve symptoms in patients with depression that is not tied to certain times of year — the kind that can and often does persist year-round.

Dr. Lam and team studied 122 patients. Some of these patients underwent half an hour of light therapy every morning for eight weeks. Others were given a fake type of light therapy (placebo). The study authors also varied whether patients in both groups took a common depression drug called fluoxetine (brand names Prozac and Sarafem).

Light therapy appeared to improve mood and outlook in most of the study patients, Dr. Lam and team found. And the patients who took their depression meds and underwent light therapy had the best results.

This study was published Nov. 18 in JAMA Psychiatry.

A grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research funded this study. Study authors disclosed many potential conflicts of interest. These included financial ties to Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Brain Canada, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly and Co., Takeda, Lundbeck, and Johnson and Johnson, among others. Some of these drug companies make drugs used to treat depression.