Will Light Therapy Help Beat My Blues?
Byline: Martin Scurr
WHAT do you think of these lights and lightboxes for seasonal affective disorder? I am 83, a depressive and take Seroxat tablets (30mg once daily) but still don't feel all that happy. I'd be willing to buy a lightbox or sunshine lamp but don't know if they are worth the money, at around [pounds sterling]70 a go? Hilda Cameron, Maidstone, Kent..
LIGHT therapy is often used to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is characterised by tiredness, low mood, irritability, anxiety, and a tendency to sleep longer.
The symptoms start during the autumn and winter months, and are said to be due to the lack of light as a result of the shorter days possibly because the reduced exposure to light causes problems with the production of serotonin, a brain chemical that regulates mood.
Some say the condition improves by spending a week or two every winter closer to the equator, though I have never been convinced.
If any of my patients have had the luxury of a sunny winter holiday, I suspect that any improvement is more to do with the change of scene and the boost that a holiday can provide.
However, the studies do show that light therapy using light at an intensity at least ten times brighter than normal light bulbs does appear to bring relief in some cases, and the brighter the light, the better the response.
Although not available on the NHS (because of lack of an evidence base), you can buy light boxes, light 'baseball' caps and even dawn simulators. The latter are alarm-clock activated lights which mimic sunrise and wake the user gradually.
If you use light therapy, it's been found that exposure in the morning works better for most people, and at least 30 minutes of exposure is needed to gain any benefit.
Don't be fooled into thinking visiting a tanning salon will give the same benefit these use ultra-violet rays which increase the risk of skin cancer (the light boxes used for SAD are designed to filter out these harmful rays).
However, I am not sure that this will help your depression. While there is some evidence that light therapy works for SAD, the evidence for non-seasonal depression ie a depressive illness that occurs all the year round is even less convincing. So in your case, it may be a waste of time and money.
You're already taking a good anti-depressant medicine and I am sorry you do not feel happier.
You cannot conclude that Seroxat has failed until you've been taking the full prescribed dose for at least six weeks. Some would argue that the level should be as high as 60mg and you should discuss your current prescription with your doctor.
Whatever you do, do not spend money on a lightbox. Instead, walk for an hour every morning, if you are able, as this does provide sufficient light exposure even on overcast winter days to be helpful for those with SAD. It's also free, and may well help you, even if your mood disorder is not of the seasonal type.
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