Seasonal Affective Disorder: Potential Treatments
Patients suffering from the form of major depressive disorder known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may look forward to spring, thinking they may find relief in the longer days and warmer temperatures.
Yet, people suffering from SAD don’t need to wish their days away. There are several treatments that might offer relief.
The first step is talking to your healthcare provider. Since there may be another reason for depression or a mental health condition, patients should not attempt to diagnose themselves, according to the Cleveland Clinic’s overview of SAD. Read our blog post here to learn about the symptoms of SAD.
Several treatments are most commonly used for patients who present with symptoms of SAD.
One of the most common treatments for SAD involves exposing the patient to bright light for periods of time each day, typically through the use of a device known as a light box. Light boxes use a bright fluorescent bulb, often rated at up to 10,000 lux, which is considerably brighter than inside an office but far less intense than midday sunlight on a clear day.
According to the Cleveland Clinic website, there are three things to keep in mind when using a light box:
- “Use a timer. [Psychologist Adam] Borland, [PsyD], says that while the amount of time you need to use your light box differs from person to person, most people tend to use it for 30 minutes a day. ‘The nice thing is that most light boxes come with a timer on them,’ he says.”
- “Use it in the morning. Try using it as early in the day as possible, says Dr. Borland. Using it at night can have negative effects.”
- “Don’t look directly into the light. Place your light box on your desk or table, off to the side. ‘Use it just as a passive light source and don’t look into it directly,’ Dr. Borland says.”
According to a paper published in American Family Physician, the journal of the American Academy of Family Physicians, multiple studies have been conducted supporting light therapy as an effective at treating SAD.
As with other SAD treatments, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider before purchasing and using a light box. The Mayo Clinic’s guide to light boxes warns that patients with bipolar disorder or certain eye conditions may face additional risks using the device.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
A form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is another treatment that research has shown is effective in many cases for treating SAD. CBT involves a licensed mental health professional talking with a patient to help them identify difficulties and troubling thought patterns, and then discussing ways to improve those patterns.
The American Family Physician paper cited a 2015 study and its 2016 follow-up demonstrating that both CBT and light therapy led to significant improvements in SAD patients. In the follow-up, CBT was shown to have both less recurrence of symptoms and a higher remission rate than light therapy.
In some cases, clinicians may prescribe antidepressants for the treatment of SAD. A class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) is sometimes prescribed at for those diagnosed with SAD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website.
Another medication, bupropion (Wellbutrin), is often prescribed for the condition. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved bupropion in extended-release form for preventing a recurrence of SAD.
Some clinicians may suggest patients with SAD may take Vitamin D supplements to help alleviate their symptoms. Although some patients report feeling better, researchers who have studied Vitamin D have found results to be inconclusive, the NIMH website says.
Findings in the American Family Physician paper show that lifestyle factors such as physical activity and improved sleep hygiene may help patients with SAD improve their condition. The authors note that not enough clinical trial data exists to provide conclusive evidence.
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Our articles are for informational purposes only and are reviewed by our Medical Information team, which includes PharmDs, MDs, and PhDs. Do not make any changes to your current medications or dosing without consulting your healthcare provider.
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