Although light therapy has traditionally been used in treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD), new indications are that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be better.
Kelly Rohan, PhD, of the University of Vermont, enrolled 177 participants with SAD using light therapy for 30 minutes each morning at home for six weeks. Some subjects continued with the light treatment until spring, and were given the opportunity to use the light box again next winter.
Instead of continuing with light therapy, others received CBT twice a week for 50 minutes over six weeks. During the sessions, they were taught to challenge negative ideas about the winter months and avoid behaviors such as social isolation that can negatively affect mood. The CBT resumed in the next winter.
In the first winter following treatment, relief from SAD symptoms was similar between the two groups. However, after the second winter, 70% of the light therapy subjects had abandoned treatment, leading to depression returning to 46% of them. However, only 27% of the CBT group saw depression return during the second winter, the researchers reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
The results indicate that while light therapy may be better when it comes to acute episodes of SAD, CBT may be more effective to prevent relapse.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy may be better at treating seasonal affective disorder than light treatment, according to research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that affects over 14 million Americans, ranging from 1.5% of the population in southern states like Florida to over 9% in the northern regions of the country. An estimated 10-20% of all cases of recurrent depression follow a seasonal pattern.
It is believed to be caused by a hormonal imbalance triggered during the shorter days of winter. In people with SAD, the late winter sunrises interfere with circadian rhythms and cause levels of the sleep hormone, melatonin, to remain high into the morning. This results in fatigue and depression.