Light therapy for depression at home

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  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

    Also visit the online treatment locator.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service), or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.

Also visit the online treatment locator, or send your zip code via text message: 435748 (HELP4U) to find help near you. Read more about the HELP4U text messaging service.

The service is open 24/7, 365 days a year.

English and Spanish are available if you select the option to speak with a national representative. Currently, the 435748 (HELP4U) text messaging service is only available in English.

In 2020, the Helpline received 833,598 calls. This is a 27 percent increase from 2019, when the Helpline received a total of 656,953 calls for the year.

The referral service is free of charge. If you have no insurance or are underinsured, we will refer you to your state office, which is responsible for state-funded treatment programs. In addition, we can often refer you to facilities that charge on a sliding fee scale or accept Medicare or Medicaid. If you have health insurance, you are encouraged to contact your insurer for a list of participating health care providers and facilities.

The service is confidential. We will not ask you for any personal information. We may ask for your zip code or other pertinent geographic information in order to track calls being routed to other offices or to accurately identify the local resources appropriate to your needs.

No, we do not provide counseling. Trained information specialists answer calls, transfer callers to state services or other appropriate intake centers in their states, and connect them with local assistance and support.

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Last Updated: 08/30/2022

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Light therapy against depression -

Ordinary sunlight or a special lamp can improve depression. This is called light therapy. A member of our community has prepared a review of publications on what light therapy is and how it helps with bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder.

Personal experience prompted me to write this article. For as long as I can remember, summer has been the best time of my life. As a child, as a student, this could be attributed to the holidays, which everyone enjoys without exception. Then somehow it became more difficult to tie to the holidays - the holidays were no longer with me, but the habit of rejoicing remained. In summer, everything is easy, everything is simple, everything is fast, there is no time to even sleep, and you don’t feel like it. Then comes the golden autumn, then not very golden, and then not golden at all, but slushy, dreary and dark. Everything around becomes dull and gray, meaningless and useless, and you feel that your life is meaningless, useless, so the best thing is to go to the kitchen, have a big snack on buns and go to bed. Preferably until spring, so as not to hear those idiots who offer you to cheer up.

It is impossible to force yourself to get up in the morning and start some kind of meaningful activity, everything and everyone around you infuriates. The only good news is the opportunity to go to bed early and try to fall asleep. Then once - and a snowball falls, then another, then everything turns white, and somehow life gets a little better. But soon the snow turns gray, fades, and there, and again, everything acquires a yellow-blue hue, like a boiled yolk. And so on until the summer. And then the cycle repeats. And only many years later I learned that seasonal affective disorder combined with bipolar disorder is not only what I saw in others, but also what I myself have.

If you recognize yourself in winter, take my word for it - this is not the norm. It's time for you to go to the doctor. You very likely have seasonal affective disorder, as detailed by Dr. Rosenthal in 1984(1). And if in the summer everything is just as wonderful for you as it is for me, then go all the more so, bipolar affective disorder combined with seasonal is no better.

The fact that the length of the daylight hours affects our activity has been known since ancient times(2). The Chinese physician Wong Tei wrote 4700 years ago that a person's mood is connected with the season. Hippocrates associated melancholy with winter and mania with summer, and many other physicians, ancient and not so, drew attention to the connection of mood with the seasons.

There are many hypotheses for SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), but the exact cause is unknown. It is believed that the less sun a person sees, the worse a part of the brain called the hypothalamus works for him. It is responsible for many brain functions, including our emotions. Melatonin is overproduced, causing drowsiness, and serotonin, on the contrary, is produced in smaller amounts, which causes a decrease in mood, and these are just some of the possible mechanisms for the development of SAD. The main reason is the lack of sunlight.

By the way, not only people suffer from SAD. If animals leading a predominantly diurnal lifestyle (humans, for example, or grass rats) are deprived of bright light for a long time, they will somehow develop a depressive state (3). In grass mice, which were placed in an environment with a dim, “winter” light, memory, learning ability worsened, signs of anxiety and depression appeared. Even mice with a lack of sunlight become depressed. What can we say about a person ... At the same time, in mice, no connection was found with circadian rhythm disorders, on which seasonal depression depends, in this study.

According to one theory, depression can develop when the circadian rhythm (that is, the change of day and night) and periods of sleep and wakefulness do not match. In other words, a person is forced to go to bed and wake up not in accordance with his biological rhythm, but at an imposed time (not a word about an alarm clock!). This idea is based on the theory of light therapy, which aims to restore the circadian rhythm and thus bring a person out of depression. But the level of illumination, which is necessary for this, turned out to be much higher than in natural conditions. So it's not just about circadian rhythms. But whatever it is, light therapy works well for SAD (4).

But depression is not limited to SAD. Depression may not be related to the length of daylight hours, and then the question remains: will additional light help such people? And if a person has not just SAD, but bipolar affective disorder?

If he has periods of autumn depression followed by periods of hypo- or manic state in summer? Will he then switch from depression to mania, that is, will the light harm him? In search of answers to these questions, scientists have come to the conclusion that there is no damage due to bright light, but there is a benefit for people with depression. Several studies have recently been published that studied the effect of bright light on depression in bipolar disorder.

A study was conducted at Chicago Northwestern University where light was used not in the morning but in the afternoon (5). The original plan was to compare morning bright white light with soft red light, but three of the first four patients treated with bright light developed hypomania. The researchers decided that light therapy in the morning might be to blame, and moved the treatment time to the afternoon hours.

They assumed that it would be ineffective, because a person sees the light during the day, unless he lives underground or in the conditions of the polar night.

It turned out that a bright white lamp significantly alleviated depression in 68% of patients, and a red one only in 22%, which was consistent with the results of other studies with morning light therapy. It is noteworthy that no one developed hypomania during treatment.

Very similar results were obtained in Turkey (6) and China (7), where it was confirmed that bright light in patients with depression increased the effect of antidepressants in both unipolar depression and bipolar disorder, including in patients without seasonality (8) The table below compares the illuminance with different light sources 1 000 - 5 000 Light in offices, classes, etc. 500 Class lighting 250 900 Now it becomes clearer why staying at home is harmful (in all respects), and wolves howling at the moon. If you have depression associated with SAD, then you definitely need a lamp. And if not connected, you can just go outside on a sunny day. It is not only useful, but also absolutely free.

Although people have known since ancient times that sunlight affects mood, this type of treatment is not fully understood. In Holland, a group of scientists decided to find out whether the effect of light on mood depends on the spectrum of this light (10).

A cloudy day is bad not only because it has little light as such, but also because there is practically no ultraviolet in the radiation. Of course, it is not good for the eyes at all. But was it worth testing the hypothesis of whether dim blue light of just 100 lux is useful for people with depression?

It turned out that yes, in the study it turned out to be as effective as bright. Unfortunately, there are no definitive recommendations on how and when to properly use a bright lamp. Some people, including psychiatrists and psychotherapists, still have questions about the safety of bright light treatment for the eyes.

A team from the Free University of Amsterdam reviewed 43 scientific articles reporting various adverse events in patients treated with light therapy for various reasons, including depression and bipolar disorder (11).

In theory, light therapy can be dangerous to the eyes because it can damage the retina with HEV radiation (HEV radiation, or blue light, high-energy visible light) - this is high-frequency high-energy light in the visible spectrum in the range from 400 to 500 nm. No other parts of the eye (lens, cornea, etc.) are affected. During light therapy, some patients (up to 45%) complained of discomfort and visual disturbances, regardless of the dose of light therapy.

However, in part of the studies, there were more complaints in patients treated with dim red light than in those treated with bright white light. In other experiments, on the contrary, bright light was tolerated worse. In some studies, bright light at 10,000 lux did not cause any discomfort, and in others, people complained of discomfort at an intensity of only 400 lux.

Researchers evaluated the effect of light therapy on the eye's light sensitivity and found that exposure to brighter white light temporarily reduced sensitivity to red light, while exposure to less intense red light increased red light sensitivity.

Both are normal. There are practically no complications from light therapy in people who do not have eye diseases. An exception is complications when taking photosensitizing drugs (photosensitization is an increase in the sensitivity of the body, more often the skin and mucous membranes, to the action of light radiation when taking certain drugs, such as antibiotics).

The only reliable case of damage to the retina during light therapy was recorded in a patient who took the antidepressant clomipramine (anafranil), among the side effects of which is photosensitivity.

It is safe to say that bright light treatment is safe for the eyes. Dr. Carl Aiken, director of the Center for Mood Disorders at Wake Forest University (USA), recommends the use of large lamps with a brightness of at least 2,000 lux with a UV filter to protect the eyes 12. The session is best done during the day, from 12 to 14 hours. It is better to sit half a meter from the lamp, but not directly opposite it, but obliquely, at an angle of 45 degrees. At the same time, you can do the usual things (eat, work, watch TV). The lamp should be changed every three years.

In any case, you should only start light therapy after consulting your doctor. Although sunlight is beneficial for health, light therapy for bipolar disorder is not fully understood and should be approached with caution. 1. Rosenthal, N. E. et al. Seasonal affective disorder. A description of the syndrome and preliminary findings with light therapy. Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 41, 72–80 (1984).

2. Geoffroy, P. A., Schroder, C. M. & Bourgin, P. Light treatment in depression: An antique treatment with new insights. Sleep Med. Rev. 40, 218–219 (2018).

3. Yan, L., Lonstein, J. S. & Nunez, A. A. Light as a modulator of emotion and cognition: Lessons learned from studying a diurnal rodent. Horm. behavior. (2018). doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2018.09.003

4. Nussbaumer, B. et al. Light therapy for preventing seasonal affective disorder. Cochrane Database Syst. Rev. (2015). doi:10.1002/14651858.CD011269.pub2

5. Sit, D.K. et al. Adjunctive Bright Light Therapy for Bipolar Depression: A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial. Am. J. Psychiatry 175, 131–139 (2018).

6. Yorguner Kupeli, N., Bulut, N. S., Carkaxhiu Bulut, G. , Kurt, E. & Kora, K. Efficacy of bright light therapy in bipolar depression. Psychiatry Res. 260, 432–438 (2018).

7. Zhou, T. et al. Clinical efficacy, onset time and safety of bright light therapy in acute bipolar depression as an adjunctive therapy: A randomized controlled trial. J. Affect. Discord. 227, 90–96 (2018).

8. Penders, T. M. et al. Bright Light Therapy as Augmentation of Pharmacotherapy for Treatment of Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Prim. Care Companion CNS Disord. 18, (2016).

9. Leahy, L. G. Overcoming Seasonal Affective Disorder. J. Psychosoc. Nurs. Ment. Health Service 55, 10–14 (2017).

10. Meesters, Y., Duijzer, W. B. & Hommes, V. The effects of low-intensity narrow-band blue-light treatment compared to bright white-light treatment in seasonal affective disorder. J. Affect. Discord. 232, 48–51 (2018).

11. Brouwer, A. et al. Light therapy: is it safe for the eyes? Acta Psychiatr. Scand. 136, 534–548 (2017).

12. Aiken, C. How to Use Light Therapy in Bipolar Disorder | Psychiatric Times. Available at: (Accessed: 17th December 2018)

Light therapy: what and how is treated with lamps and open curtains


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Author Alena Galkina

April 28, 2018

Light today treats mental illnesses and seasonal blues, corrects sleep and increases the efficiency of employees. We tell you how.

In ancient Egypt, vitiligo was treated with light. In the 19th century, it became clear that ultraviolet light kills microbes. And in the early twentieth century, the Scandinavian physiotherapist Nils Ryberg Finsen treated cutaneous lupus with light and even received a Nobel Prize for it. Today, science is using light to fight depression and bipolar disorder, help patients recover from stroke, and increase productivity.

Light and Mental Health

“Billions of dollars are being spent on psychotherapy when the cheapest remedy has always been right under our noses: light,” concluded The Guardian medical journalist Linda Geddes, studying the latest research. Francesco Benedetti, head physician of the San Rafael Psychiatric Clinic in Milan, has been studying awakening therapy for almost twenty years, now to use it in the treatment of bipolar disorder: it turned out that bright morning light in combination with lithium brings patients into remission faster than pills. Also at last year's Berlin conference on light therapy and biological rhythms, Danish researcher Klaus Martini presented an amazing report from the Copenhagen Psychiatric Hospital. It turned out that patients suffering from depression, who were in the wards facing southwest (sunny side), are discharged here twice as fast as patients from rooms whose windows face northwest. The difference in terms of treatment of the first and second is on average 29days. The scientist associated this with light: daylight in the southwestern rooms is almost 20 times brighter than in the northwestern ones, which means that it is easier for the biological clock of patients to work. Based on the data received by the doctors, the city authorities began work on the construction of a new psychiatric center, which will open in Copenhagen in 2022.

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Light and seasonal blues

A medical degree is not required to enjoy the benefits of light therapy. At the household level, light is used to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This term refers to seasonal depression, or, in other words, winter melancholy, which suffers from people with normal mental health when there is not enough sunlight. When from October to April there is no strength not only to communicate with loved ones, but even to get out of bed, then, get acquainted, this is it. In the Scandinavian countries, where daylight hours can last less than five hours in autumn and winter, phototherapy is popular, that is, sitting under lamps with cold light, reminiscent of daylight. Such a special operation to lengthen daylight hours has an antidepressant effect.

Many manufacturers volunteered to help the inhabitants of countries located far from the equator and began to produce SAD lamps. Today, dozens of such devices are sold on Amazon - ranging in size from pocket ones (for example, Philips) to super-powerful ones that can illuminate a large area. Prices start at $ 100. The level of illumination during the operation of such lamps is about 10 thousand lux, a hundred times brighter than the usual home light (for comparison, the illumination of a summer day is 50 thousand lux). Harvard Medical School recommends sitting in front of a SAD lamp for 20 to 30 minutes immediately after waking up, without closing your eyes, but without staring at the light either. The perfect time to read 10 pages of a book, scroll through the news feed, or just plan out your plans for the day. Phototherapy can also be used before a night shift to prolong wakefulness.

Light and neurology

Light in neurological departments is one of the most inexpensive, but at the same time effective ways to restore the body after a stroke. Lighting systems are already being installed in European hospitals: at the beginning of the day, they give blue, dawn lighting, shine brightly during the day, “warm up”, imitating the sunset, and turn off at night. After a stroke, the biological clock usually goes off, and artificial daylight, regardless of the time of year, returns patients to sleep, a study shows. Full-spectrum daylight lamps are also used in patients with Parkinson's disease, one of the consequences of which is sleep disturbance.

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Light and productivity

A Leesman study found that almost 30 percent of employees are dissatisfied with the quality of office lighting. Yes, in Russia, although there are SanPiN standards that set the parameters for lighting in offices, lighting called circadian-friendly is developing in the world. The daily rhythms of employees can be controlled by lamps that shine brighter in the morning and dim in the evening: with this technique, people not only work more productively, but also sleep better and suffer less depression. The Philips Lighting smart lighting system is already installed in Deloitte's Amsterdam office, mimicking natural daylight and allowing workers to customize their workspace using a remote control or app. And the school. Honore de Balzac in the French town of Nanterre near Paris was the first to install the Philips SchoolVision system, with which the teacher can adjust the lighting depending on the task - for this, the switch has the “Focus”, “Normal” and “Energy” buttons, it is advised to turn on the system in the morning . In a year, students in the smart-lit class saw a 35 percent increase in reading speed and a 45 percent decrease in error rates. And children's hyperactive behavior was reduced by more than 70 percent, according to the report, thanks to the Calm button with soothing warm light.

Appreciated the benefits of proper lighting in the smartest city in the Middle East - Dubai. The leading UAE university, Hamden Bin Mohammed Smart, has been equipped with an integrated lighting system powered by Interact Office software, which was presented at the largest light exhibition Light+Building 2018. The solution allows the management of the educational institution to control the lighting settings to ensure maximum concentration and comfortable conditions for students.

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