Light Therapy for "Indoor" Seasonal Affective Disorder

Patient Expert

I alluded in a previous blog to my feeling that my antidepressants weren't working as well as they had been in the past. I was not severely depressed, but I lacked motivation to get things done around the house or do crafts. I noticed that I was not particularly talkative and I knew that my overall demeanor was somewhat grim.

I was discouraged, as I'm on the maximum standard dose of Wellbutrin. Where do you go from there? And why had it stopped working?

As I was writing my series on light therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder this past winter, I started thinking. Maybe my depression was a result of lack of light, and I had in essence developed SAD all year round.

A few years ago we moved from Connecticut, with its months of gray winter skies, to sunny California. Initially I wasn't working outside the home, so I spent a lot of time outside, even in the winter. Fifty degrees in the pale winter Connecticut sun is chilly; fifty degrees in the bright winter California sun is comfortable. For the first time in a while, I was gardening.

A little more than a year after we moved, I started working full-time. My desk is about twenty feet away from the closest natural light, and I leave the fluorescent overhead lights off, as they tend to give me a headache. Initially I took a walk every lunch hour, but heat waves in the summer and wimpiness in the winter cut down on them pretty significantly.

So in reality I was getting very little sun. I'm inside, nowhere near a window, for most of my waking day, Monday through Friday. In the summer I'm outside on the weekends a fair amount, and I felt that in retrospect, my mood had been better in the summer.

A couple of days after I came up with this hypothesis, I decided to see if I could treat my possible year-round SAD with light therapy. I bought a small light therapy device that was well reviewed on Amazon, and put it on my desk at work. I must confess that while I planned to record the length of time and brightness, that fell by the wayside. My job is fairly hectic. So I just kept it on throughout the whole day, initially. I started having insomnia, which I found fascinating. Who would think that a simple thing like a bright light during the day could cause insomnia hours later? While fascinating, this was also quite tiring, so I started turning the light off at noon, and my insomnia was mitigated.

Two months later I can report with a fair amount of confidence that the light therapy has made a difference. My mood is much improved, and the only thing that changed was the addition of that little (about 5" x 5") light on my desk. Of course, colleagues asked about it, and I simply said that my cube was far too dark, and I found it a bit depressing.

If you think that you might be suffering from mild to moderate depression for that reason, you might want to try light therapy.