Dealing with Depression/SAD


QUESTION: Hi Patricia,
 I am a male, 65 years old, and live in the northern State of Maine.
 Spell Check isn't working so I hope I don't make too many mistakes.
I have a question about SAD and light therphy. In the winter months I get SAD and I don't want to go through that any more.
I think the reason is that I start having less sertonin and get more meletonin in the winter months.
If I did a tanning booth for 20 minutes once a week, how much do you think that will help me? I think the tanning booth will give me more vitimin D through my skin but do you think that will help much with the decrease of sertonin and the increase in melatonin?
As I understand things, I need more light to enter through my eyes, which will affect my brain, and stop the SAD.
At my age, I'm not real concerned about getting cancer from the tanning booth for maybe 20 minutes once a week, if it will help me. But I'm confused about how much tanning booths will help me about the light therphy for just a few minutes a week, even though the booth will boost my vitimin D level.
Also, I know about the "happy lights" on the market. I think the happy light therphy will go through my eyes and directly to my brain, but I wonder about getting much in vitimun D by doing that.
What are your thoughts about doing both the tanning booth and the happy light?
I hope I have explained this well enough.

ANSWER: Hi Dennis:

Tanning booths are not the same SAD therapy as the light boxes that have been tested for SAD.
You need 10,000 lux  (not l0,000 hours - some try to get away saying you get 10,000.)  10,000 lux has been tested and approved by researchers in the field of SAD.  It is considered the "therapeutic level"
to help you.  

Good light therapy units come from Apollo, Sunlight, Northern Light Technologies, Sunbox and Sunbox Jr.,
Alaskan Northern Lights (see, Verilux, Sun Touch Plus,etc. may have some on sale.
Read all the info and make sure it reads 10,000 lux.  It also protects you from UV light which a tanning booth cannot.  Tanning booths do not use the same lights that are used for SAD.

You need to sit under the light box unit (whichever one you buy) for not less than an hour to begin with. Try it for a week. Increase or decrease the time until you reach your therapeutic level. You will notice feeling better in 3-4 days, or sooner.  You can read under the light, eat breakfast, write, plan your day. But, make sure it is one hour.

You can also put a timer on your light to wake you up at a certain time and just stay in bed for that hour.

Buy the book by Neal Rosenthal "Winter Blues" - there are two books with similar titles, same author.
they both give excellent information.   Do other research SAD to educate yourself more about light therapy.   Some people use their light at work. But, do NOT use it after 5 pm.  You may not be able to sleep at night.  

I have three light units.  One at my desk, one in my bedroom that I set to come on early in the morning, and one small 10,000 lux unit where I read and also use the computer.  I have very bad SAD in the winter and these units help you a lot.

The following is an article from the internet:

With the dark days of winter upon us, many are heading to tanning salons as the solution for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a.k.a. winter depression which is believed to affect approximately 15 million Americans. Tanning salons tout their services as a treatment for SAD, though the ultraviolet radiation (UVR) they produce is not a component of light therapy, the most effective treatment.

“People often think of sunbathing as the antidepressant essence of light exposure. Wrong! Light therapy acts through the eyes, and requires visible light, not UV,” says Michael Terman, PhD, Director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms, Columbia University Medical Center, New York City.

Since UV light is not a treatment for SAD, those affected with this disease are only putting their health at risk for skin cancer by visiting a tanning salon. New high-pressure sunlamps emit as much as 12 times the annual UVA dose compared to the dose they receive from sun exposure. People who use tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma.

Most SAD specialists recommend obtaining light via a light box rather than visiting a tanning salon. Light boxes are portable, visible light sources which provide up to 10,000 lux of illumination -- 10 to 25 times as bright as ordinary lighting and “equivalent to outdoor light about forty minutes after sunrise,” according to Terman. Most patients use light boxes early in the morning, for 15 to 60 minutes.

Choose a Light Box With 10,000 Lux of Illumination. Light boxes offering fewer lux are not as effective.
Use a UV Filter. Most light boxes use fluorescent bulbs, which emit a small amount of UV radiation. Your light box should have a UV filter or diffusing screen to protect your skin and eyes.
Opt for Soft, White Lights. Full spectrum lights produce greater amounts of blue light (which can harm the eyes) and UV radiation.
The first organization in the U.S committed to educating the public and medical professionals about sun safety, The Skin Cancer Foundation is still the only global organization solely devoted to the prevention, detection and treatment of skin cancer. The mission of the Foundation is to decrease the incidence of skin cancer through public and professional education and research.

I hope my information helps you to choose the right one for you.
Take care,
Dr. Pat

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

 Thank you for all the information. It is very helpful and I will do as you suggested.
 There is one thing that I'm not sure of. You said that I can also put a timer on the happy light to wake me up at a certain time and just stay in bed for that hour. My question is, does the light therapy still work if my eyes are closed and I go back to sleep?  Or, is this just to wake up and then lay there for a while with my eyes open?
 Thanks again for the time and the help. This is very nice of you!


Hi Dennis:

As long as you are facing the light unit, as close as you can comfortable get,light does go through your eyelids because they are translucent.  There is no research on this. However, I do know a few people who set their light unit to go on at 4 am  and off at 7 or 8  am.  They say they get some help from it.  All you can do is try it and see if it helps you somewhat.  

When you use your light unit, if you can sit as close as 12" from it, then you are getting the full benefit of the unit.  The further away you sit, the intensity decreases.  Using a light unit at your computer or desk, just sit as close as you comfortable can.  

One of my light units looks like a big desk lamp.  I do paperwork under it and I am sitting probably 1 to 1.5 feet.  You do not need to look into the light at all.  I have a smaller unit at the computer and it is probably 2 feet from it.  I do benefit from it because I do sit under it at least 3 hours almost every day.

Hope this helps.  If you have any further questions, just ask.

Dr. Pat

Dealing with Depression

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Patricia A. Schafer, Ph.D.


I received my Ph.D. from Kent State,in Ohio in Counseling.I specialize in various forms of depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and forms of addictions such as substance abuse,eating disorders and gambling. My licenses are: Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor -Supervisor(LPCC-S) and Licensed Professional Chemical Dependency Counselor (LICDC) My experience includes counseling substance abusers, families of alcoholics/drug addictions, and codependency issues. I also specialize in social phobia; stress; anxieties; women`s issues; grief and adjustments to life changes. Some therapeutic techniques used are: CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), DBT (Dialectical Behaviorial Therapy)REBT (Rational Emotive), SFT (Solution Focused) and 12-Step, etc. If you live in the Cleveland area, you can contact me at my office for an appointment at: 440-349-4521. I accept insurance and EAP programs.


Twelve years experience as a professional clinical counselor; 30 years member of Al-Anon.


Experiences of prejudice among individuals in African American and Caucasian Interracial Marriages: A Q-methodological Study (Doctoral Dissertation - December 2008; Wilsnack and Beckman's book: Alcohol Problems in Women (1984). Alcohol use and marital violence: Female and Male Differences in reactions to alcohol(pages 260-279.

Ph.D. in Counseling - Kent State MS in Counseling - John Carroll University BS in Psychology - University of Pittsburgh

Awards and Honors
Previous president of NCOCA (North Central Ohio Counseling Association); previous president of Chi Sigma Iota. Two years VISTA volunteer on Navajo reservation in Inscription House and Shonto.

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