Seasonal Affective Disorder sufferers might find relief in Light Therapy

By Savannah Higley

Image Credit: Vermont Maturity

Many people experience what some may call “the winter blues.” But few know that there’s a form of these blues that’s much more severe, enough to receive a formal diagnosis. That diagnosis is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), more commonly known as Seasonal Depression.  Seasonal depression is triggered by the changing seasons, most commonly spanning the length of winter. Though there is an incredibly rare form of seasonal depression that comes about in the summer called Summer Depression.  

An actual diagnosed case of Seasonal Affective Disorder is rare, with an estimated 5% of adults in the United States experiencing it. This disorder also disproportionately affects women more than men. Seasonal Affective Disorder is more commonly found in people who already have a mood disorder or other mental conditions. People who live at high altitudes or particularly cloudy regions are more at risk. 

Whether you have an actual case of Seasonal Affective Disorder or just the winter blues, these mood changes can be tied back to access to sunlight. Research suggests that lack of sunlight can contribute to mood changes and even decreased serotonin levels. Serotonin helps regulate a person’s mood and even someone’s sleep. Access to sunlight and vitamin D helps regulate serotonin, which in turn helps regulate mood.  

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Phototherapy or Light Therapy can be used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. Light Therapy exposes a person to a special lamp that is about 20 times brighter than an indoor lamp to mimic sunlight. Professionals recommend having the lamp about 2-3 feet away while you go about everyday tasks such as reading or eating a meal. One of the most important aspects of light therapy is not looking directly at the lamp as it could cause permanent damage to the eyes.  Someone undergoing light therapy could use a high-intensity box for about 20-30 minutes or do a significantly longer session with a lower intensity light. 

Light therapy isn’t a cure for seasonal depression, but it can help with the symptoms and give a person more energy

If you think light therapy may be the right path for you, talk to your doctor about it. Your doctor can assess the situation and direct you to the use of the right therapy for your specific situation. 

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