Using Light Therapy for Depression During Pregnancy
C. Neill Epperson, M.D.,Associate Professor of Psychiatry
(Collaborator: Dan A. Oren, M.D.)
For two decades, scientists have known that bright light therapy can be an effective treatment for seasonal depression. Various scientific and historical reasons led pregnant women with depression to be excluded from studies assessing the effects of drugs and devices on depression. As a result, the value of a benign and efficacious physiological antidepressant treatment remains unknown in a population that might benefit from it especially. Dr. Epperson’s study investigated whether bright light therapy regardless of the season can have antidepressant effects in pregnant women who chose not to take antidepressant medication due to possible iatrogenic effects of such medication on their pregnancies.
Highlighted Study Findings
Women with depression during pregnancy showed symptom improvement with light therapy, and increased depressive symptoms after light therapy was halted. Melatonin, a hormone that affects mood, is altered in depression. This alteration of melatonin functioning was corrected with successful light therapy treatment, advancing the notion that depression during pregnancy can be alleviated by light therapy treatment. This response is similar to that seen in individuals undergoing light treatment for seasonal depression. These findings suggest that bright light therapy has antidepressant effects in depressed pregnant women, regardless of the season. This study provides support for the use of light therapy as a safe, effective treatment of depression in pregnant women, without the use of medication.