Having the blues and feeling depressed are some of the usual accompaniments to the winter season. With shorter days and little sunshine, our mood takes a beating and we find ourselves surrounded by problems such as sleep disorder, loss of appetite and low energy level. Such issues that occur annually during the winter season are normally caused by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and most of us feel depressed during this time.
SAD impacts about 1 to 2 percent of the population, women and young people in particular, while as many as 10 to 20 percent people face a milder form of these nagging winter blues.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Some recent studies have corroborated the fact that light therapy can be used to get rid of this malady to a great extent. Richard S. Schwartz, M.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says that light therapy “can be an important and effective treatment of depression, with more rapid onset than anti-depressant medication and minimal side effects.”
A similar view is put forward by Stephen Ilardi, author of The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs, who says, “Light therapy is fast-acting with fewer side effects. People using light therapy will usually see improvement within five days, versus two to four weeks with antidepressants.”
However, another school of thought says that light therapy alone cannot fight SAD and calls for a judicious mixture of other treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat seasonal depression. In a study named “Outcomes One and Two Winters Following Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy or Light Therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder,” published by the American Journal of Psychiatry, the researchers concluded that after two winters of receiving either CBT or light therapy, those who received CBT experienced a smaller proportion of recurrence as measured by SIGH-SAD, a primary measure of SAD symptoms, when compared with those who received the light therapy. The outcomes were 27.3 percent and 45.6 percent favorable respectively. Moreover, there was a greater remission from SAD with CBT.
The CBT is a highly practiced method for treating depression. If you look into any depression help you will observe that it is an established form of treatment in psychiatry. Being in line with the best in the country, the depression rehab centers have been curing depression patients using this technique.
Pitting one treatment against the other is not a healthy way to counter SAD. The light therapy gathering steam is a good sign for it to be combined with other conventional techniques to treat SAD. There is nothing which contradicts using both cognitive and light therapies as part of depression-fighting strategy. Merging both these practices with other effective methods like physical exercise, taking antidepressants, improving sleep hygiene or meditation and mindfulness, etc. can only expedite the fight against depression.
Deborah Serani, author of Living with Depression, says, “I recommend Bright Light Therapy for all my patients who struggle with a mood disorder,” and “for some, it is helpful long term, for others it isn’t.”
Two ways of administering light therapy
The Light Box, which is a 10,000 lux light box, emits a controlled amount of white light and the person suffering from SAD has to sit in front of it at a distance of 12 inches for 15 to 30 minutes each morning. The box filters out the harmful UV rays and emits a controlled amount of light which helps in fighting SAD.