Light Treatment for SAD: What You Need to Know

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital December 2, 2014

Light therapy is one treatment for controlling symptoms of seasonal affective disorder during fall/winter months.

Do you find in the depths of winter you don’t feel like yourself? Your energy level might be lower. You might feel irritable. Maybe you have difficulty sleeping. If you find yourself experiencing the symptoms of depression but only during wintertime, you could have seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder in which a person’s depression occurs repeatedly in a particular season of the year – most often people with SAD get depressed in winter when days are short. SAD is a form of depressive disorder and has the usual symptoms. What is unique to the specific SAD diagnosis is the seasonal timing. Evidence-based treatments for SAD include light therapy. This requires the use of a specific type of light box to mimic some features of natural sunlight. Today’s post, written by Janis L. Anderson, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), offers some tips for choosing the right type of light box to treat SAD. Dr. Anderson has conducted clinical SAD research since 1985.

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Mindfulness Meditation Helps Fibromyalgia Patients

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital March 20, 2013


Research indicates that meditation may be helpful for people suffering from fibromyalgia (chronic pain syndrome).

Mindfulness meditation is a state of awareness in which one remains non-judgmental and non-reactive towards one’s own thoughts and emotions from moment to moment. Research indicates it may lead to changes in the brain that provide health benefits, particularly for people suffering from fibromyalgia (chronic pain syndrome).  These patients live with musculoskeletal pain and fatigue on a daily basis.  As a result, they often avoid pain-related threats and dwell on thoughts of pain, making it harder to cope with their illness.

In a study of female fibromyalgia patients who practiced mindfulness meditation, Dr. David Vago, a cognitive neuroscientist in the Department of Psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), found that after eight weeks of mindfulness meditation training, patients were less likely to avoid pain-related words and were less distracted by such words when performing attention-demanding tasks.  In other words, they were more likely to engage with their pain and had fewer tendencies to dwell on such thoughts after completion of the study.  While fibromyalgia patients who meditated still sensed their pain, they were able to manage their emotional responses more effectively.

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Relief for Persistent Depression

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital February 13, 2013

Dr. Arielle Stanford helps treat persistent depression with transcranial magnetic stimulation.

A new option to alleviate severe depression symptoms that are not responding to traditional treatment can now be obtained during a series of one-hour doctor visits – even over the lunch hour – using a wand and an easy chair.

It may sound a bit like a scene from a fairy tale, but the science is real. Known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), the treatment uses magnetic pulses to target areas of the brain in people suffering from persistent symptoms of depression, despite available medications.

“Many people with more severe depression do not receive adequate relief from medications alone,” says Dr. Arielle Stanford, Director of the  Program in Brain Stimulation in the Department of Psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH). “TMS is a non-invasive and non-pharmacological treatment to relieve symptoms with minimal side effects. It’s the latest FDA-approved treatment in brain stimulation for psychiatric conditions, an exciting area in the field of psychiatry.”

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Pregnancy and Depression: Planning is Key

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital December 20, 2012

Dr. Laura Miller specializes in helping women with depression who are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant.

An estimated one in ten adults in the United States is impacted by depression. While depression is a condition that is widely treatable, addressing depression during pregnancy can be more complicated. The key, psychiatrists say, is planning ahead.

“Managing depression during pregnancy is similar to managing a heart condition or other chronic illness,” says Dr. Laura Miller, Director of the Women’s Mental Health Service at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital (BWFH). “Planning ahead, prior to conception, is really important.”

As part of pre-conception planning, psychiatrists can help women with a history of depression or other psychiatric disorders to identify risk factors that may increase their symptoms. “Hormonal fluctuations and changes in nutrition, exercise, and sleep can all contribute to depression during and after pregnancy,” says Dr. Miller. “We develop strategies, including behavioral therapies and lifestyle changes, to reduce these risks where possible.”

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Painting a Different Picture – Changing Perceptions of Mental Illness

Posted by Blog Administrator June 18, 2012

Emily Stern

Using new imaging techniques, Dr. Emily Stern is showing that mental disorders have a biological basis.

Sherbet orange and yellow, greens as bright as the fuzz on a tennis ball, blues reminiscent of a setting sky – all splattered across a soft gray maze. It’s not a Claude Monet painting. These colors exist on imaging scans produced by sophisticated machines in the Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory (FNL) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), directed by Dr. Emily Stern of the Department of Radiology. Stern and FNL researchers are studying images of the human brain to uncover the mysteries of depression, schizophrenia, and other mental disorders.

With advanced tools that may change the medical landscape of psychiatry, one of the most poignant ambitions that the researchers have is to erase the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“Seeing a picture of brain areas lighting up abnormally on an MRI conveys that there is a biological problem with the brain in people with mental disorders,” says Dr. Stern. “We hope that when people hear that mental disorders have a biological basis, they will think of these disorders differently, and not as something that a person can just snap out of. These are true disorders of the brain, just like there are disorders of the heart, kidney, or lung. And we are just starting to understand the neurobiology behind this.”

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Butter on the Brain? Think Again.

Posted by Blog Administrator June 13, 2012

Dr. Olivia Okereke

Oil or butter? Dr. Olivia Okereke found that higher amounts of “good” fats, like those found in olive oil, were associated with better cognitive function and memory in women.

We’ve known for some time now that eating too many foods containing “bad” fats – saturated fats or trans fats – isn’t healthy for your heart. Now it appears these fats, which are found in foods such as butter and red meat, may also be bad for your brain.

Dr. Olivia Okereke, of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Psychiatry Department, found that higher amounts of saturated fat, in particular, were linked with worse overall cognitive function and memory over time in women.

On the flip side, higher amounts of one of the “good” fats – monounsaturated fats – were associated with better overall cognitive function and memory. Foods high in monounsaturated fats include olive oil, canola oil, and nuts.

The BWH researchers analyzed data that included food surveys and cognitive test results from a subset of more than 6,000 women, over the age of 65, from the Women’s Health Study.

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