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What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder Therapy?

By Cindy Quarters
Updated May 17, 2024
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Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that is brought on by a change in seasons. Winter SAD is the most common type and appears to be triggered by the low levels of sunlight available in winter. Seasonal affective disorder therapy is essentially the same for all types of SAD, and can include the use of a light box, psychotherapy, and antidepressant medication. Not all therapies are used in all cases.

Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, is one of the more common choices for seasonal affective disorder therapy. It is relatively inexpensive, has a minimum of side effects, does not require the use of medications, and can easily be performed at home. The main component in this type of therapy is the use of a high-quality light box, which is a specialized light fixture that emits a very bright, broad-spectrum light. The light emitted is similar to sunlight and has many of the same effects on the user.

It is not known exactly why light therapy works for sufferers of SAD, but it appears to be a valuable form of seasonal affective disorder therapy. Many people afflicted with this disorder are confident that light therapy has helped them, although from a clinical perspective there is some question of just how effective it is. The light seems to have an effect on brain chemistry and causes a positive change in those chemicals that are linked to a person’s mood.

Before purchasing a light box to use for seasonal affective disorder therapy, it is best to consult a physician or other person knowledgeable in the use of this type of equipment. It is important to have a box that provides the proper range and quality of light, as otherwise the time spent with the light box may be wasted. One of the most important features of a light box for SAD therapy is that it filter out any UV rays, as these can be harmful to the eyes and skin.

Depending on a person’s level of need, medication may also be used for seasonal affective disorder therapy. This may be tried if light therapy does not help or if the effects of SAD are severe. A doctor may also recommend psychotherapy, which can help to alleviate many of the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Psychotherapy may be used alone or in combination with any of the other therapies for SAD. The main thing, according to doctors at the Mayo Clinic, is that a person suffering from seasonal affective disorder should seek help if he or she has symptoms for two years in a row, as treatment for this disorder is best done as soon as the problem is recognized.

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