Pilot program at two library branches casts light on depression
Light therapy lamp
Ensar Sehic uses a light therapy lamp at the Toronto Public Library Malvern branch on Monday, Feb. 13. Toronto Public Library is conducting a pilot project to allow library users to use two light therapy lamps on a first-come, first-served basis at its Malvern branch in Scarborough, and at its Brentwood branch in Etobicoke. The lamps are used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Canadian Mental Health Association research indicates two to three per cent of Ontarians have SAD, while another 15 per cent have a less severe experience.
Gabi Kresic eagerly basks in the bright lamp’s light at her neighbourhood Brentwood library branch.
Toronto Public Library (TPL) is shining its own light on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) by introducing light therapy lamps at Brentwood branch in Etobicoke and Malvern branch in Scarborough, as part of a pilot project launched last week.
The lamps mimic natural sunlight to treat SAD, a type of depression related to lack of sunlight, particularly in winter.
“It has been an impossible winter,” Kresic said, of Toronto’s dark and dreary days throughout January and into February. “I think everyone suffers from SAD. Some of us, it affects us more.”
In Canada, millions of people suffer from a degree of SAD due to lack of sunlight. Between two and three per cent of the population has full-blown SAD, with symptoms that include fatigue, decreased energy, sleep disorders, weight gain, irritability, and feelings of anxiety and despair. Another 15 per cent have a less severe experience, the Canadian Mental Health Association reported.
Daily, Kresic sits beneath the bright lamp for half an hour, ever since reading a newspaper article about it last Friday. Normally, she visits the library monthly.
“For me, it’s not about the winter; it’s not about the length of the days. It’s the sunlight and the blue sky,” Kresic explained of her need for sunlight. “You may not have sun on 40 C days in summer. For me, sunlight is essential.”
Kresic is such a fan — she once had a light therapy lamp at home — she has offered to purchase and donate a third lamp to Brentwood branch.
Each library branch has two lamps. After a three-month pilot and feedback from users, the lamps could be expanded to other branches, TPL officials said.
Kresic suggested library staff start a sign-up sheet, and consider hosting public lectures given by experts “not just about light therapy, but also other things you can do (to combat depression)”.
Lillian Galati is also a fan of the lamps, and urges TPL to expand the program.
Since Friday, Galati has trekked twice to the Brentwood branch to read beneath the lamps, despite the fact her neighbourhood library is Richview branch. She plans to make use of the lamps twice a week.
“It’s nice to get the heat and the light on you, especially when there is none (outside),” Galati said, while reading The Nest, a novel by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney.
Dr. Robert Levitan, a professor of psychiatry and physiology at the University of Toronto, who is the depression chair at U of T and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, welcomes the idea.
Last year, TPL reached out to Levitan to inform him of the proposed service. Levitan told TPL officials no such service existed in Toronto, and that he supported the idea, said Alex Carruthers, manager of learning and community engagement for TPL.
TPL paid $240 for each therapy lamp, giving people who might not otherwise afford one to try it out.
Information is available at each library branch outlining the therapy lamp's use, who should avoid it and how to use it. It is recommended users sit or read in front of the lamp between 20 and 30 minutes. Users should sit two feet away and not stare directly into the light.
People with retinal disease, macular degeneration or diabetes, and those taking melatonin, thioridazine or lithium, should consult a doctor before using light therapy lamps, TPL advised.
Although the program is only in its second week, Tiziano Vanola, who heads the Brentwood branch, said users’ feedback has been positive. Some people have asked if the program will be expanded and even if they can donate a lamp to the branch.
“Some people actually said they experience the ‘winter blues,’ and they plan on using the lamps on a regular basis,” Vanola said.
It is the first time the light therapy lamps are being used in libraries in Ontario.
TPL considered the program after learning of the lamps’ use in libraries first in Edmonton, then in Winnipeg.
In 2014, Robin Mazumder, an occupational therapist and MacEwan University instructor, donated three light therapy lamps to the Stanley A. Milner Library in downtown Edmonton.
The Awesome Edmonton Foundation had awarded Mazumder a $1,000 prize for his bright idea to bring light therapy to public spaces. Mazumder found a willing partner in Edmonton Public Library.
TPL selected the Brentwood and Malvern branches because both are busy locations, Vanola said.
The pilot program runs until the end of April. Library staff encourage users to provide feedback by filling out a form at each branch or online https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/lighttherapylamp.