SAD Lamps Shed Light on Seasonal Depression
(photo: Brenda Hora, Mental Health Case Manager for Adult Community Support Services, demonstrates a SAD Lamp at the Vernon Health Unit)
Due to our generous donors, VJH Foundation supported Community Mental Health in purchasing 15 much-needed Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Lamps for IH community facilities throughout the North Okanagan.
Seasonal affective disorder is the formal name of a type of depression that occurs during the winter months associated with the shortening days. Treatment for SAD consists of light therapy, also known as phototherapy, in which the patient is exposed to an artificial intense bright light source. Exercise and getting outdoors can also be helpful.
Unfortunately, light therapy requires lamps that emit far more lumens than the customary incandescent bulbs, which makes them much more expensive than a household lamp.
The new SAD lamps will enable mental health clients to access light therapy in their own homes.
Vernon psychiatrist, Dr. Fiona McGregor, has been treating patients with light therapy since the early 1990s.
“I started to notice a pattern in the homes I was visiting, that I was writing far more prescriptions for antidepressants during the fall. Some of the caregivers in one home purchased a SAD lamp and the need for prescriptions fell,” she said.
“Symptoms tend to begin after the time change in November and subside in April. Common symptoms are low mood, carbohydrate cravings, over-sleeping and social withdrawal which can be quite debilitating.”
SAD lamps are believed to affect brain chemicals such as melatonin that play a role in determining mood changes.
Dr. McGregor says patients usually feel the positive benefits of the lamps within a week. However, the lamps have to be used for 30 to 60 minutes a day throughout the entire season.
“The lamps are functionally designed for use while taking part in activities such as eating or reading and work best when used in the morning,” said Dr. McGregor.
Programs and areas benefiting from the SAD lamps include participants in Early Psychosis Intervention, Mental Health Housing and Semi-Independent Living Programs throughout Vernon as well as White Valley Community Centre programs in Lumby.