Light Therapy May Help People Suffering From Bipolar Depression

By Samriddhi Dastidar | Nov 28, 2017 09:31 PM EST

As daylight saving time approaches this weekend, doctors have warned against a kind of depression that impacts people who spend time away from sunlight.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

As the months grow darker and colder, many people find themselves feeling glum, depressed, and sadder due to an affliction that is known as the seasonal affective disorder. The symptoms of the disorder are sometimes treated with bright lights; however, it is still unclear how lack of light can cause SAD.

"There's a bio-psycho-social model for seasonal affective disorder that shows both what we call chrono-biological factors, or factors related to the body clock, and psychological factors,” SAD specialist psychologist Dr. Jennifer Rough said. “And it's some interaction of both that inform how depressed someone becomes in the wintertime and also informs whether they will meet full clinical diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder.”

Researchers have suggested that dark days can impact the skin’s production of serotonin. The idea, therefore, is to use a daily dose of bright artificial light in lieu of sunshine to treat depression.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Vitamin D, psychotherapy, and antidepressants help, too. The lightbox used for the treatment looks similar to an average desktop-sized screen. Many people refer to the lightbox as a happy box.

Light Therapy For Bipolar Disorder

Researchers are now carrying out tests to see if light therapy can also be helpful for treating bipolar disorder related depression. Also known as manic-depressive illness, it is a brain disorder that leads to unusual shifts in activity levels, energy, and mood and the capability to carry out daily chores. The disorder affects nearly 3 percent of the population in the United States.

Bipolar depression is supposed to be among the most difficult types of depression to treat. Medications such as mood stabilizers that are helpful for treating the disorder’s manic phase are not very beneficial in treating its depressive phase. People who have bipolar disorder spend a majority of their time on the depressive end of the spectrum.

Experts from the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University in the United States, conducted a research where 46 volunteers with moderate bipolar depression were examined. Half of the patients were assigned to get bright light therapy, whereas the other half got a dim placebo light. Both the groups continued with their regular medication.

After four to six weeks, the study, which was published in October in the American Journal of Psychiatry, found that 68 percent of the volunteers with bipolar depression achieved remission of depression in comparison to 22 percent of the people who received the placebo light.

The researchers, however, have added that bipolar disorder patients should not try light therapy on their own and it is important to first see the findings duplicated in future research.

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