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Light therapy for non-seasonal depression: systematic review and meta-analysis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2018

Stefan Perera*
Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
Rebecca Eisen
MiNDS Neuroscience Graduate Program, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
Meha Bhatt
Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
Neera Bhatnagar
Health Sciences Library, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
Russell de Souza
Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada Population Genomics Program, Chanchlani Research Centre, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
Lehana Thabane
McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada Biostatistics Unit, Centre for Evaluation of Medicine, Hamilton, Canada
Zainab Samaan
Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada Biostatistics Unit, Centre for Evaluation of Medicine, Hamilton, Canada Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
Zainab Samaan, Associate Professor, Mood Disorders Program, Centre for Mountain Health, 100 West 5th Street, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada L8N 3K7. Email:
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Light therapy is a known treatment for patients with seasonal affective disorder. However, the efficacy of light therapy in treating patients with non-seasonal depression remains inconclusive.


To provide the current state of evidence for efficacy of light therapy in non-seasonal depressive disorders.


Systematic review of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) was conducted by searching MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, and CENTRAL from their inception to September 2015. Study selection, data abstraction and risk of bias assessment were independently conducted in duplicate. Meta-analyses were performed to provide a summary statistic for the included RCTs. The reporting of this systematic review follows the PRISMA guidelines.


A meta-analysis including 881 participants from 20 RCTs demonstrated a beneficial effect of light therapy in non-seasonal depression (standardised mean difference in depression score −0.41 (95% CI −0.64 to −0.18)). This estimate was associated with significant heterogeneity (I2=60%, P=0.0003) that was not sufficiently explained by subgroup analyses. There was also high risk of bias in the included trials limiting the study interpretation.


The overall quality of evidence is poor due to high risk of bias and inconsistency. However, considering that light therapy has minimal side-effects and our meta-analysis demonstrated that a significant proportion of patients achieved a clinically significant response, light therapy may be effective for patients with non-seasonal depression and can be a helpful additional therapeutic intervention for depression.

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Copyright © The Royal College of Psychiatrists 2016


Declaration of interest



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