Light Therapy to Treat Depression

We tend to feel irritated, depressed, gloomy and very lethargic on dark or rainy days. This is because our bodies absorb energy from the sun and when there is either no sunlight or very little of it, our bodies do not get the energy they need, leading to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD is a type of depression usually that occurs at a certain time of year, usually in the fall or winter, which is why it is also known as winter depression. It is more prevalent in geographical areas where there is poor natural sunlight.

Light therapy can help treat this disorder, by exposing the patient to artificial light. Also known as bright light therapy or phototherapy, it is a very simple treatment. It requires the patient to sit or work near a device called a light therapy box. The device mimics natural outdoor light, which is a substitute for sunlight. This light affects brain chemicals that are linked to mood, thereby easing SAD symptoms.

These are the benefits of light therapy:
Helps treat seasonal affective disorder.
Increases the effectiveness of antidepressant medications or mental health counseling.
Helps women avoid antidepressant medications during pregnancy or while breast-feeding.
Treats skin conditions like psoriasis.
Reduces jet lag.
Can be used to treat some sleep disorders.
Can also be used to treat some cases of non-seasonal depression and dementia.

However, light therapy comes with some risks, which include:
Irritability or agitation
Hyperactivity or agitation associated with bipolar disorder

These side effects usually don’t last long and are not brain damaging. They go away on their own within a few days of starting the therapy. The side effects can get worse in some rare cases, however a visit to the doctor should sort them out. People suffering from porphyria should avoid most forms of light therapy. But for the rest of us, light therapy is a safe treatment and is a good substitute for natural sun light.
*Data courtesy: Anuja Kapur, psychologist and sociologist