Harvard Women's Health Watch

Bright light helps depression

depression light therapy seasonal affective disorder
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Research we're watching

Light therapy has been the treatment of choice for seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—the gloom that descends on some people as the days grow short. The therapy typically involves spending about 30 minutes a day—usually immediately after waking—in front of a box that emits bright fluorescent light. A study published online Nov. 18, 2015, by JAMA Psychiatry demonstrates that light therapy can also alleviate major depressive disorder.

Researchers randomly assigned 122 women and men with major depression to four groups—31 received fluoxetine (Prozac) and light therapy, 32 received light therapy and a placebo pill, 31 took fluoxetine and underwent a sham (placebo) treatment using an ion generator in place of the light box, and 30 took a placebo and underwent sham therapy. At the end of the eight-week treatment period, depression was alleviated in 17 of those who had both light therapy and fluoxetine, 14 of those who had light therapy and took placebo pills, six who took fluoxetene and had sham light therapy, and nine who had only placebo treatments.

If you're battling depression and searching for a new treatment, light therapy may be worth a try, either alone or in conjunction with an antidepressant. There are few side effects.