single frame from Mood Lighting

Awesome webcomic Overcompensating by Jeffrey Rowland recently featured light therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Click the image to see all of Mood Lighting, including this endorsement in teensy words at the bottom: “SAD light is designed for successful creative people who need to not suck.”

SAD is affected by variable seasonable levels of sunlight, and other environmental cues. A vanguard considers it to be part of the bipolar spectrum, since it’s cyclical depression and predictably recurrent with the seasons in affected people. I remember an ignorant old skool nurse scoffing at the idea that mood changes with weather (“ridiculous” was her descriptor). She obviously hadn’t read the substantial literature on light therapy (also called phototherapy). There’ve been many trials and comprehensive meta-analyses like a review* by the American Psychiatric Assn. and this Cochrane Review on light therapy for non-seasonal depression. It doesn’t work for everyone (no treatment does) but is definitely effective for many people.

More accessible than medical literature is some valuable info about therapeutic blue light (and amber light) in the comments of this post. As well, the Center for Environmental Therapeutics has decent SAD and light therapy resources, including self-assessment tools.

People with bipolar disorders can be overstimulated by blue light (there are cases of hypo/mania triggered by light treatments), so do be careful. Amber light bulbs (like bug lights), screens for monitors, and glasses with yellow lenses might help though they haven’t been rigorously studied yet. Dr. Jim Phelps of PsychEducation published an interesting hypothesis last summer on wearing amber lenses to block nighttime artificial blue light (flourescent bulbs, TV screens, etc.) and potentially stabilize bipolar disorder by affecting circadian rhythms. It’s available here but sorry, there’s a paywall guarding the full text.

* Golden et al., The efficacy of light therapy in the treatment of mood disorders: a review and meta-analysis of the evidence. Am J Psychiatry 2005; 162:656–662 [free full text]

Direct link to Mood Lighting at Overcompensating. Read some other strips while you’re there, laughter helps you out too.