Does Light Therapy for Depression, Bipolar Depression Work?
For many years light therapy has been shown to work for seasonal affective disorder (that is, depression that is seasonal, typically in the winter when less hours of sunlight are available). But what about just for major depression? Does light therapy for major depression or bipolar depression work? Here’s the lowdown on light therapy for depression and bipolar disorder.
Study of Light Therapy for Major Depression
The largest study of light therapy for unipolar depression (that is, not bipolar depression) has recently been done and shows very positive results for those with depression.1 The numbers, actually, are quite shocking (shockingly good for light therapy).
This study found that light therapy actually outperformed fluoxetine (Prozac) for the treatment of depression and when light therapy was added to treatment with fluoxetine, remission rates were even better.
Depression remission rates were as follows:
- Placebo (a sugar pill and no light box) – 30%
- Fluoxetine alone – 20%
- Light therapy alone – 45%
- Light therapy with fluoxetine – 60%
Now, these numbers (and a respected doctor) suggest that this study was biased against medication treatment. Regardless, however, the numbers for light therapy were very positive – when the two were added together, remission rates were higher than any known medication.
Dangers of Light Therapy
Of course, nothing is risk-free and there are dangers with light therapy just like with anything else. This high-intensity light and so, anyone with any eye condition (such as macular degeneration) or any sensitivity to light (such as because of a specific medication) must be careful with it. See this page for the details on bright light exposure risk.
Dangers for Light Therapy for Bipolar Depression
So far, we’ve been talking about unipolar depression and that’s fine and well, but bipolar depression appears to be a bit different.
The first thing you need to realize is that this type of bright light exposure works like an antidepressant, so all the risks of treatment of bipolar with antidepressants exist (Challenges of Bipolar Depression Treatment). Specifically:
- Light therapy can induce mania, hypomania or mixed states in some.
- Light therapy can make the above states worse.
You should also know that your hours of complete darkness are also incredibly important, especially if you’re manic, hypomanic or are in a mixed state. See more information on light and darkness in bipolar depression here.
For information (by a doctor) on how light therapy should be used in bipolar depression, see here.
What Light Box Should I Get for Light Therapy?
And for either condition, if you do get a light box, be choosy about which one you pick. See here for more information on what you should buy. In my opinion, if you can afford it, you should get the one that has been used in studies (or the “official” light box) but there are cheaper options as well. I just wouldn’t feel as comfortable with them as they may not work as well. If you’re going to try a treatment, I say try the one that has the best chance of working.
The Lowdown on Light Therapy for Depression or Bipolar Depression
The lowdown on light therapy for unipolar depression is great – most people should try it, usually along with their medication. However, make sure you check out the links above and this link to make sure you know what you’re getting into, though, and always check with a doctor before you try any treatment.
Light therapy for bipolar depression is more complicated though. I might suggest if you’re bipolar one and prone to mood switching, you might be a bit more careful as to whether you try it; but talk to your doctor to see if it’s right for you and make sure to read the links to the references above.
Tracy, N. (2016, March 15). Does Light Therapy for Depression, Bipolar Depression Work?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2016/03/does-light-therapy-for-depression-bipolar-depression-work
Author: Natasha Tracy
I was wondering if any studies have been carried out about the levels of depression in countries like Alaska where in some places the daylight hours are minimal. What about countries where summer happens for most of the year and so light and sunshine is available for longer during the day? I think light has a place to play in people's health and certainly their mental health but I am not sure being exposed to artificial forms of light is the answer.Perhaps if more studies were done into this then people with depression will know not to live (if they can help it) in countries where daylight in minimal throughout the year.