Light in the Dark: Light Therapy Lamps

February 6, 2017 | Tiziano

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Toronto Public Library is launching a new pilot project which will bring a set of two therapy lamps to the Brentwood and Malvern branches starting on Monday, February 6. The lamps are available on a first-come, first-served basis and offer an opportunity for people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) to combat "winter blues" thanks to the benefits of exposure to intense levels of light similar to sunshine. This service has been tried at public libraries in Edmonton and Winnipeg and the response from the public was very positive. Customers who used the lamps commented that exposure to the bright lights helped them improve their psychological well-being.

Therapy lamp test 2

Why Toronto Public Library is offering this service

Providing access to light therapy lamps is one way the library contributes to the preservation of the mental health of Torontonians during the winter months. This initiative is in fact consistent with the library's vision for the future as stated in the Toronto Public Library's 2016-2019 Strategic Plan, which is to inspire the city and its community and to make the residents of Toronto "more resilient...and more successful".

In addition, offering access to lamps is in keeping with the City of Toronto's Poverty Reduction Strategy which strives to offer "equitable access to services" and to create "a city where everyone has access to...supportive services". With this service, the library is offering Toronto residents an opportunity to use lights that they may not otherwise have access to. In addition, according to an article in the Edmonton Sun, the library is the perfect environment for people to relax and experience the lamps, as well as the appropriate public space "to get a discussion going about mental health".

Information about the use and benefit of therapy lamps will be available at branches. The pilot project will run until April, at which point Toronto Public Library will evaluate whether to continue with this service and to expand it to multiple branches. To make an informed decision, the library feels it is important to have as much information as possible, we therefore encourage patrons who make use of the lamps to provide feedback by completing a questionnaire that will be available at the branches and online.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is a form of depression that usually occurs in the winter months when the amount of natural light is limited to a few hours a day. Human beings suffering from natural light deprivation can display the following symptoms:

  • lack of motivation
  • difficulty to concentrate
  • lethargy and tendency to oversleep
  • change in appetite patterns and cravings for starchy food
  • fatigue
  • sadness
  • apathy
  • feelings of anxiety and despair
  • desire to avoid public situations and social interaction.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association of Ontario, research shows that between two to three per cent of residents of our province suffer from SAD; 15% of Ontarians have a less severe form of SAD known as the "winter blues". SAD has been recognized for almost 150 years as a condition; however, it was only in the 1980s that it was designated as an actual illness.

Treatment of SAD and Light Therapy

There are many ways to combat SAD such as regular exercise, a healthy diet and taking every opportunity to be exposed to natural light. Treatment for SAD also includes light therapy. According to some experts, lack of sunlight affects a person's biological clock and his or her sleep cycle, hence, exposure to the bright light emitted by therapy lamps will contribute to restoring a healthy cycle.  Experts suggest sitting or reading a book approximately one to two feet away from the lamp for no more than 20 to 30 minutes a day. It is important that the light reaches the eyes, however, it is also crucial not to stare directly at the light. For best effectiveness, it is also recommended that  therapy lamps be used daily.

Therapy Lamp Safety

Light therapy is safe. Experts, however, point out that before undertaking light therapy, people with bipolar disorder and certain medical conditions such as retinal disease, macular degeneration and diabetes should consult with their doctors.

For more information, visit the Canadian Mental Health Association website section on SAD .