Major depressive disorder (MDD) affects at least 5% of the population, with a lifetime prevalence estimated at 14%. It is the second-ranked cause of disability worldwide and is associated with impairment in quality of life, increased risk of mortality, and societal burden. Treatments for MDD include psychotherapies and antidepressants, but remission rates remain low despite adequate treatment and more therapeutic options are needed.
Light therapy, an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), may also be appropriate for MDD. Bright light is a safe, well-tolerated, nonpharmacological treatment that can be used alone or combined with medications. Light can correct disturbed circadian rhythms, which have been implicated in the pathophysiology of MDD. Previous metaanalyses of light therapy for nonseasonal MDD, however, have yielded only equivocal and conflicting evidence for efficacy. Two more recent systematic reviews both concluded that the quality and methods of the identified studies were too heterogeneous to conduct a meta-analysis. They each found insufficient evidence for efficacy of bright light monotherapy, although 1 review found low-quality evidence for bright light as adjuvant treatment to antidepressants.
In summary, these systematic reviews indicate that the evidence for benefits of bright light therapy for nonseasonal MDD is inconclusive and well-designed studies are required to resolve this issue.
So begins a new paper on depression. I like these opening paragraphs and, in particular, the first paragraph (and its bluntness). For the clinicians among us, the final phrase is hauntingly true: “more therapeutic options are needed.”
This week’s Reading: “Efficacy of Bright Light Treatment, Fluoxetine, and the Combination in Patients With Nonseasonal Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial” by Dr. Raymond W. Lam et al., which was just published online (ahead of print) in JAMA Psychiatry.
This is a big paper in a big journal with big clinical implications. It’s also very Canadian – every co-author lives north of the 49th parallel; the first author hails from Vancouver.
We know that light therapy works for those with a seasonal pattern to their depression. But could we use the light therapy for other people suffering from depression? The authors attempt to answer this question. Continue reading