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June 18, 2005

Too Much Light is Bad for Bipolar Disorder

We have all heard of the benefits that can come from being around a lot of light, because with too little light we can sometimes develop feelings of depression. The best example of this is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Those affected by SAD relapse into depression every time we go into months that are filled with more days of darkness than light. Of course, where you live also affects when those months are and therefore, when your mood will plummet.

But for those with bipolar disorder the light may affect them in a completely different way. It has been stated that "'They can become overly activated, fully manic or what we call hypo-manic,' says Dr. Andrew Winokur, professor of psychiatry and director of psychopharmacology at the University of Connecticut Health Center. These people are more likely to engage in risky and inappropriate behavior as mania replaces depression" (Hathaway, 2005).

Although this does have negative implications for light therapy and bipolar patients, this does not undervalue the importance of light in a human beings diet. We are, as human beings, designed to be in the sun. If we were not, we would be nocturnal and sleep during the day.

As is noted in the source of this article, "suicide rates peak during spring in northern latitudes. One theory is that the increased exposure to daylight triggers changes in brain chemistry in depressed people that allows them to act on harmful thoughts. 'SAD is marked by a tremendous lethargy,' he [Dr. Terman] says. 'But then comes a transition period in the spring when there is an energy boost, and people become more likely to act on suicidal thoughts.'"

Despite the potentially negative affects that too much light can have on those with bipolar disorder, the importance of light should not be undermined. Many people react remarkably well to light therapy in which they expose themselves to a special high wattage light that makes up for the lack of light during the dreary seasons of the year.

For more information on seasonal affective disorder and the link between light and depression go to: http://world.std.com/~halberst/contrib/sad.html

For more information on the link between light and bipolar disorder go to: http://www.psycheducation.org/depression/darkrx.htm

The source of this article was The Hartford Courant

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