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Mental Health Center

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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) - Topic Overview

How is it treated?

Light therapy is the main treatment for SAD. Medicines and counseling may also help.

Light therapy

Experts think light therapy works by resetting your biological clock. It helps most people who have SAD, and it's easy to use.

There are two types of light therapy:

  • Bright light treatment. For this treatment, you place the light box at a certain distance from you on a desk or table. Then you sit in front of it while you read, eat breakfast, or work at a computer.
  • Dawn simulation. For this treatment, a dim light goes on in the morning while you sleep, and it gets brighter over time, like a sunrise.

Light boxes use fluorescent lights that are brighter than indoor lights but not as bright as sunlight. Ultraviolet lights, full-spectrum lights, tanning lamps, and heat lamps should not be used.

Light therapy is usually prescribed for 30 minutes to 2 hours a day. The amount of time depends on how strong the light is and on whether you are starting out or are have been using it for a while.

You may start to feel better within a week or so after you start light therapy. But you need to stay with it and use it every day until the season changes. If you don't, your depression could come back.

Antidepressants

Antidepressant medicines may help people who have SAD. They may be used alone or with light therapy. The most common ones prescribed for SAD include:

If your doctor prescribes an antidepressant, be sure you take it the way you're told to. Do not stop taking it suddenly. This could cause side effects or make your depression worse. When you are ready to stop, your doctor can help you slowly reduce the dose to prevent problems.

Counseling

Counseling may also help. Some types of counseling, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy, can help you learn more about SAD, how to manage your symptoms, and how to help prevent future episodes..

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