Anywhere from 1.5% to 9% of people experience depression that follows a seasonal pattern. The depression gets worse in the Autumn and Winter months. It gets better in the Spring. When the symptoms are mild, it is called the "Winter Blues". The Winter Blues can include low mood, low energy, and carbohydrate cravings which lead people to overeat. In more severe cases, a Major Depressive Episode may be triggered by the seasonal changes. Major Depressive Episodes can be cause deep feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, and thoughts that life is no longer worth living. This condition used to be called "Seasonal Affective Disorder". In 2013, the name was changed to "Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern".
Since the late 1990's, studies have shown that "Light Therapy" is an effective treatment for Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern.
The Can-SAD study was published in 2006. For this study, over the course of 3 winter seasons, doctors at 4 different Canadian medical centers treated severely depressed people with either an 8 week long course of Light Therapy or an 8 week long course of an antidepressant medication (Prozac). What did they find? Both Light Therapy and Prozac helped. With both treatments, Severe Depression became Mild Depression.
The Can-SAD study was rather small. Only 81 people participated. In 2011, to look at this issue on a larger scale, the results of different studies were combined into one big "meta-analysis". That meta-analysis came to the same conclusion as the Can-SAD study. Both Light Therapy and Antidepressant Medications are equally effective.
Essentially, you sit in front of a high intensity Light Box for 30 minutes each morning.
The light box emits bright, artificial light which mimics natural, outdoor sunlight.
It is important to make sure that the Light Box you purchase filters out ultraviolet (UV) light. UV light can damage your eyes and skin.
Light Therapy is "Low Cost". Light Boxes can be purchased online. The cost generally ranges from $35 - $200.
And, Light Therapy is "Low Risk". If any side effects do occur, they are generally mild and short-lived. Such side-effects may include symptoms such as headache, eye strain, troubles sleeping, decreased appetite, and nervousness. There may be a very rare risk of a "manic switch" in people who have Bipolar Disorder. So, anyone who has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder should speak with a psychiatrist before embarking on Light Therapy.
Some details to keep in mind:
It is important to get the "right" Light Box.
Make sure that it emits a high-intensity, bright "10,000 lux"light.
Make sure that it filters out UV light.