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Light therapy appears effective for general depression treatment, study shows

A proven therapy for seasonal affective disorder now shown to work for non-seasonal depression

TORONTO, Nov. 18, 2015 - Bright light therapy appears beneficial for people with non-seasonal depression, a new multi-site study shows.

“We know that light therapy is effective for seasonal affective disorder, but this is the first large- scale placebo-controlled study to show that it also works for non-seasonal depression,” says Dr. Robert Levitan, CAMH site lead and Senior Scientist in CAMH’s Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute. “This suggests light therapy could be considered as part of a treatment plan, because current approaches using medication or psychotherapy do not work for everyone.”

The study was published today in JAMA Psychiatry.

“These results are very exciting because light therapy is inexpensive, easy to access and use, and comes with few side effects,” said lead author Dr. Raymond Lam, a UBC professor and psychiatrist at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, a partnership between UBC and Vancouver Coastal Health. “Patients can easily use light therapy along with other treatments such as antidepressants and psychotherapy.”

The researchers followed 122 patients and evaluated whether light therapy improved the mood of patients when it was used both with and without the commonly prescribed antidepressant fluoxetine.

Light therapy involved 30 minutes of exposure to a fluorescent light box soon after waking up every day for eight weeks. Some study participants were given placebo pills and placebo devices instead of the real therapies. The study measured the change in a common depression rating scale score before and after the real or sham treatment.

Light therapy reduced symptoms among many patients. The greatest benefit was seen among those who had combined light therapy and antidepressants treatment, with about 75 per cent responding positively.

Depression affects at least five per cent of the population, and is among the leading causes of disability worldwide. Depression can cause significant problems in family and personal relationships, work attendance and productivity, and overall quality of life.

Current medications are effective for treating depression, but do not help perhaps half of those seeking help.

This research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and involved patients from Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Saint John.

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The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital and a world leading research centre in this field. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental illness and addiction. CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, home to the Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre. For more information, please visit or follow @CAMHnews on Twitter.

Media Contact:

Kate Richards
Media Relations
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)
(416) 595-6015

Dr. Robert Levitan
CAMH Switchboard 416-535-8501
CAMH General Information Toronto: 416-595-6111 Toll Free: 1-800-463-6273
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