Bright light for depression can sometimes sound like “treatment lite.” Maybe good for winter blues but not for serious depression.

That’s why a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry is so important. In 50 patients admitted to a psychiatric inpatient hospital because of “severe” major depression (nonseasonal depression, not SAD), the combination of 30 minutes of bright light therapy each morning and an antidepressant medication led to improvement that began more quickly and ended up with patients significantly better that standard treatment with antidepressant medication alone. There were no side effects from the light therapy. And the benefit of light plus medication over medication alone continued over the full 8 weeks of the study, even though the light treatment ended after the first week.

As Dan Kripke MD (a light researcher who was not involved in the study) writes in an accompanying commentary,
“Treatment of severe major depression can now be greatly improved by safe, simple, and readily available bright light treatment.”

It’s sometimes an uphill battle to get both doctors and patients to take light seriously as a treatment for the most serious depression. But it is.