Researchers explore benefits of light therapy in treating bipolar depression

Researchers explore benefits of light therapy in treating bipolar depression

Bipolar disorder is one of the brain disorders characterized by unusual shifts in mood, usually categorized into depressive and manic phases. The manic episodes are characterized by unrestrained behavior, highly irritable mood, excessive talkativeness, lack of sleep, racing thoughts and slurred speech. The depressing episodes can be identified by feelings of hopelessness, despair and lethargy along with change in appetite, social withdrawal, loss of concentration and suicidal thoughts.

The benefits of light therapy are known in treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD) especially, during the winter months. It is believed that an absence of exposure to sunlight results in low production of mood elevating hormone serotonin, and the same can be rectified using artificial light. Recently, the researchers have investigated its role in reducing symptoms of the depressive phase of bipolar disorder.

Bright light therapy versus placebo

The researchers from the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, carried out the study on 46 patients with moderate bipolar depression. As part of the study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in October 2017, half of the participants received bright light therapy whereas, the remaining ones received a placebo red light. All the patients continued with their medication throughout the course of the study. The exposure to light was started 15 minutes after they placed the light box at a distance of one foot from their faces. Gradually, the time was increased to 60 minutes per day. None of the participants was required to stare at the light. They were asked to continue with their routine tasks while getting the light therapy.

Lead author Dorothy Sit stated that 68 percent of the patients receiving light therapy reported an alleviation in the depressive symptoms compared to 22 percent receiving the placebo therapy. The light therapy helped the patients to resume office and function normally in their lives. However, Sit also stated that light therapy should not be tried by patients on their own as light has the potential of triggering a manic episode in a patient. Moreover, the results are preliminary and need more evidence to firmly establish the efficacy of the therapy.

Depressive symptoms are difficult to treat

According to Ken Duckworth, medical director of the patient advocacy group with National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the study “Offers a glimmer into a new pathway for treatment because bipolar depression is one of the most difficult types of depression to treat.” Mood stabilizers can help treat the manic phase of bipolar disorder but are not much effective in treating the depressive part. He also stated that a majority of those suffering from bipolar depression tend to switch toward the depressive symptoms, making it all the more important to find ways to address the problem. Sit hopes that her results are reproduced in upcoming studies to analyze the role of light therapy in affecting the body’s circadian rhythm and how that affects the bipolar symptoms.

Seek treatment for bipolar depression

Bipolar disorder is a disabling mental health disorder, afflicting nearly 2.6 percent of adult Americans, and almost 83 percent of these cases are severe. The disorder can greatly affect the overall quality of life.

If you or your loved one is suffering from bipolar disorder and looking to connect with reputed centers providing evidence-based bipolar disorder treatment in California, Sovereign Mental Health Services can help. Our trained staff provide all the help and support to facilitate recovery and make your life better. Call our 24/7 helpline 866-567-8352 or chat online with one of our experts to know about our state-of-the-art bipolar disorder treatment centers in California and other parts of the U.S.

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