Light therapy in bipolar disorder
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Light therapy in bipolar disorder

Q: My sister's spouse is suffering of maniac depression. He was first diagnostic eight years ago, and had 2 big crises 8 and 6 1/2 years ago. Since that time, he is taking some Lithium and is having no more crisis, but he is always fragile in fall. This fall, his doctor (erronously) changed his medication, and is actually having an other crisis. Beyond this error in medication, our family think that the decrease of sun light is affecting him enough to be one (beyond all others) element(s) that provokes his maniac depression phase. As a treatment, I read few years ago that the people suffering from that kind of illness can be exposed to a high luminosity light. I searched the WEB to find more information about this product and Doctor opinions, but I found at least nothing at the time I wrote to you. Hopefully, this morning I am luckier and I found 2 WEB sites, which address are:
What do you think of this kind of product. Is it fake? Could it really help?

Dear Nadine --
Good research.   First of all, yes, these products ("lightboxes") are real, and highly effective for some people against depressionsin winter months.  If your brother-in-law's "crisis" is adepression, then yes, a light box could really help and is a very appropriatetreatment for bipolar depression that has a seasonal occurrence.

Just be sure that there are no "manic" symptoms already present, aslight therapy, like other antidepressants except lithium, can increase manicsymptoms.  This can be controlled, for many people, by limiting the"dose" to a time of exposure that does not lead to an inappropriateincrease in energy; however, determining that dose can be a little tricky sometimes.

Our hospital's technicians have looked at more than 5 different manufacturers and like the SunBox company the best, foroverall durability/reliability and confirmed 10,000 lux (which is what you want-- less time required at higher light intensities) output.  Northern Lightis also known here; I don't recognize the other one (that doesn't mean a wholelot, though). 

Oh, and thanks for the very clear translation from your first letter in French -- much better than I could ever do trying to read, not to mention write,en Francais!

Dr. Phelps

Published December, 2000

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