Light Therapy and Bipolar Depression


Mental illness is one of the most pervasive issues facing society today. Every year, some 42 million adults suffer from some form of enduring condition such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or depression. That’s nearly one in five adults in the United States. Despite how widespread these conditions have become, stigmas exist that hinder those with the conditions. The healthcare system does what it can in terms of treatment but there are still opportunities for improvement.

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Researchers at Northwestern University are now attempting to find more effective treatments for bipolar depression. Using artificial light as a replacement for natural sunlight, they hope to help people suffering from the illness in a completely new way. In order to do that, it is important that they understand the nature of bipolar depression.

What is Bipolar Depression?

 Bipolar depression, also known as manic depression, is a part of the larger bipolar condition. The condition consists of two vastly different states: the “Highs” (mania) and “Lows” (depression). In the manic phase, people feel energized, euphoric, or irritable; the depressive phase comes with feelings of hopelessness and being down. Unlike unipolar depression, bipolar disorder causes fluctuations between these two states, resulting in “episodes.”

There are some important things to keep in mind when discussing bipolar disorder. People suffering from this condition often struggle with other forms of mental illness. For now, there is no cure. Though, there are a variety of treatments: medications such as antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, and antidepressants can help patients find a balance between the manic and depressive episodes. Doctors also recommend psychotherapy and counseling along with these prescriptions.

In addition to these tried and true approaches, scientists are now testing a new type of therapy to help people with bipolar disorder.

Treatment with Light

 The light therapy treatment currently underway involves exposing patients to large amounts of artificial light. This treatment works by replacing sunlight using bright doses of light. Though effective thus far, these daily doses work together with traditional options such as antidepressants, psychotherapy, and Vitamin D.

Light therapy has already treated people suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Though, experts say that using it for the treatment of bipolar depression is a more complicated issue. In several tests, these experts have found that bright doses of light from this supposed “happy box” can actually trigger hypomania or manic episodes in certain patients. For that reason, they suggest that patients should only receive the treatment under the watchful eye of a professional, ideally a psychiatrist. Medical professionals say that new treatments are necessary since bipolar depression is among the hardest forms of mental illness to treat.

Regardless of what the future holds for this form of therapy, it is important to remember that science makes strides toward helping those with mental illnesses. How do you feel about this new form of treatment for people suffering from mental illness? Do you think that light therapy can help them? Or, do you think that there are unseen side effects that medical experts must eventually treat?

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