Light therapy, long used to help improve mood in people who get the blues when days are darker and shorter, can also treat non-seasonal depression, a small Canadian study suggests.
Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders and a leading cause of disability and reduced quality of life worldwide, the researchers note in JAMA Psychiatry.
While many people with depression may be helped by medication or psychotherapy, these options don’t work for everybody and some patients don’t stick with treatment due to side effects or challenges related to access or affordability.
“This study is the first to show that light therapy alone is effective versus a placebo, and the first to compare combination light and drug to light alone,” said lead study author Dr. Raymond Lam of the University of British Columbia.
“The combination of light therapy and antidepressant was the most effective,” Lam added by email. “However, some people may prefer to try a non-medication treatment first, and may elect to start with light therapy.”
To test the effectiveness of light therapy for non-seasonal depression, Lam and colleagues randomly assigned 122 patients to one of four groups for eight weeks: only medication, only light, a combination of drugs and light therapy, or a control group that received no active treatments.
The active treatments in the study included a daily 20-milligram dose of fluoxetine (Prozac) and daily exposure to a fluorescent light box for 30 minutes after waking up each morning.
Researchers gave people assigned only light therapy a placebo, or inactive pill, and they provided participants assigned only to drug treatment with an inactive device instead of a working light box. The control group received both the placebo pill and the inactive device.
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