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Randomized Clinical Trial of Bright Light Therapy for Antepartum Depression: Preliminary Findings

J Clin Psychiatry 2004;65:421-425

Background: Bright light therapy was shown to be a promising treatment for depression during pregnancy in a recent open-label study. In an extension of this work, we report findings from a double-blind placebo-controlled pilot study.

Method: Ten pregnant women with DSM-IV major depressive disorder were randomly assigned from April 2000 to January 2002 to a 5-week clinical trial with either a 7000 lux (active) or 500 lux (placebo) light box. At the end of the randomized controlled trial, subjects had the option of continuing in a 5-week extension phase. The Structured Interview Guide for the Hamilton Depression Scale-Seasonal Affective Disorder Version was administered to assess changes in clinical status. Salivary melatonin was used to index circadian rhythm phase for comparison with antidepressant results.

Results: Although there was a small mean group advantage of active treatment throughout the randomized controlled trial, it was not statistically significant. However, in the longer 10-week trial, the presence of active versus placebo light produced a clear treatment effect (p = .001) with an effect size (0.43) similar to that seen in antidepressant drug trials. Successful treatment with bright light was associated with phase advances of the melatonin rhythm.

Conclusion: These findings provide additional evidence for an active effect of bright light therapy for antepartum depression and underscore the need for an expanded randomized clinical trial.