SAD Long-Term Treatment Effects Studied

Seasonal affect disorder (SAD) is a very common – and often overlooked – condition. This severe form of depression occurs for millions of people every year in the fall and winter seasons. University of Vermont psychologist Kelly Rohan wanted to study the long-term effects of different treatments of this disorder. Rohans findings were summarized in a recent release in Science Daily.

In the first year, Rohan randomized 69 people with SAD into one of four different groups: light therapy treatment; cognitive behavior therapy (CBT); a combination of the two; or a wait-list control. Participants were then surveyed on how they were doing the following winter, a year later.

Those in the CBT group appeared to be the leader in recovery as only 7 percent had a recurrence, compared to 36.7 percent of those treated with light therapy. The combination group had a recurrence rate of only 5.5 percent. In addition, CBT was associated with less severer depression than those treated with either light therapy or a combination, demonstrating the value CBT brings to treatment.

In a previous study, combination therapy was found to be highly effective, with a nearly 80 percent remission rate compared to 50 percent for both CBT and light therapy alone. The difference in this study was participants were measured immediately after treatment, not one year later.

“People treated with only CBT – that’s all they know,” Rohan said, “so I think they do it with gusto in the next year and reap the benefits. The combination therapy may blow your socks off across six weeks of the initial winter, but if it doesn’t have good long-term outcomes, what is the point? This is a recurrent depression. It’s going to come back every year in some form and I want to develop treatments that are going to have lasting effects.”

There is still hope.

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