In preventing return of winter blues, talk outshines light, new study says

November 05, 2015

A new study to be published online November 5 in the American Journal of Psychiatry casts a shadow on light therapy's status as the gold standard for treating SAD, or seasonal affective disorder.

While the treatment was effective at addressing acute episodes of SAD, a SAD-tailored version of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) was significantly better at preventing relapse in future winters, the study found. Led by University of Vermont psychology professor Kelly Rohan, the research initiative, funded by a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, is the first large scale study to examine light therapy's effectiveness over time.

Over 14 million Americans suffer from SAD, ranging from 1.5 percent of the population in southern states like Florida to over 9 percent in the northern regions of the country. An estimated 10 to 20 percent of all cases of recurrent depression follow a seasonal pattern.

In the study, 177 research subjects were treated with six weeks of either light therapy - timed, daily exposure to bright artificial light of specific wavelengths using a light box - or a special form of CBT that taught them to challenge negative thoughts about dark winter months and resist behaviors, like social isolation, that effect mood.

Two winters after the initial treatment, 46 percent of subjects in the light therapy group reported a recurrence of depression compared with 27 percent of those in the CBT group. Depressive symptoms were also more severe for those in the light therapy group.

"Light therapy is a palliative treatment, like blood pressure medication, that requires you to keep using the treatment for it to be effective," said Rohan. "Adhering to the light therapy prescription upon waking for 30 minutes to an hour every day for up to five months in dark states can be burdensome," she said.

The study showed that, by the second winter, only 30 percent of light therapy subjects were still using the equipment.

Cognitive-behavior therapy, by contrast, is a preventive treatment, Rohan said. Once SAD sufferers learn its basic skills it has enduring impact, giving the person a sense of control over their symptoms.

A companion study Rohan published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in September showed that light therapy and CBT were both highly effective in treating SAD during the winter they were administered, with no statistically significant differences between the two approaches.

"The degree of improvement was substantial," Rohan said. "Both treatments showed large, clinically significant improvements in depressive symptoms over six weeks in the winter."

But given the difficulty in persisting with light therapy and large number of Americans suffering from the recurrent disorder, CBT may be the better treatment option in the long term, Rohan said.

For the study, research subjects were started at 30 minutes of light therapy each morning at home, and the duration was subsequently adjusted to maximize response and reduce side effects over six weeks. Light therapy subjects were instructed to continue daily exposure at home until spring and were offered access to a light box again the next winter. A second group of subjects received cognitive-behavioral therapy during two 50-minute sessions per week for six weeks.

In the first winter after the initial treatment, the two treatment groups reported comparable relief from seasonal depression.
-end-


University of Vermont

Related Mental Health Articles from Brightsurf:

Mental health strained by disaster
A new study found that suicide rates increase during all types of disasters -- including severe storms, floods, hurricanes and ice storms -- with the largest overall increase occurring two years after a disaster.

The mental health impact of pandemics for front line health care staff
New research shows the impact that pandemics have on the mental health of front-line health care staff.

World Mental Health Day -- CACTUS releases report of largest researcher mental health survey
On the occasion of 'World Mental Health Day' 2020, CACTUS, a global scientific communications company, has released a global survey on mental health, wellbeing and fulfilment in academia.

Mental illness, mental health care use among police officers
A survey study of Texas police officers examines how common mental illness and mental health care use are in a large urban department.

COVID-19 outbreak and mental health
The use of online platforms to guide effective consumption of information, facilitate social support and continue mental health care delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic is discussed in this Viewpoint.

COVID-19 may have consequences for mental health
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be adversely affecting mental health among hospitalised patients, the healthcare professionals treating them and the general population.

Mental health outcomes among health care workers during COVID-19 pandemic in Italy
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and insomnia among health care workers in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic are reported in this observational study.

Mental ill health 'substantial health concern' among police, finds international study
Mental health issues among police officers are a 'substantial health concern,' with around 1 in 4 potentially drinking at hazardous levels and around 1 in 7 meeting the criteria for post traumatic stress disorder and depression, finds a pooled data analysis of the available international evidence, published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Examining health insurance nondiscrimination policies with mental health among gender minority individuals
A large private health insurance database was used to examine the association between between health insurance nondiscrimination policies and mental health outcomes for gender minority individuals.

Mental health care for adolescents
Researchers examined changes over time in the kinds of mental health problems for which adolescents in the United States received care and where they got that care in this survey study with findings that should be interpreted within the context of several limitations including self-reported information.

Read More: Mental Health News and Mental Health Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.