Mood lights in DC “unsafe”

The nook tucked in under the stairwell on the third floor of the Davis Center is home to several chairs, two Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) lamps and, frequently, sophomore Joe Haas.Haas doesn’t sit here to increase his light exposure, but just to do his homework. “It is one of the most quiet areas in the Davis Center,” he said. “I had no idea what [the lights] actually do.”SAD, which the lights can help to remedy, results from a lack of exposure to natural light often caused by being indoors or the darkness of winter months, according to UVM psychologist and professor Kelly Rohan.The sign on the lamps says for students to “enjoy some light therapy while you study, chat or just relax.”According to the sign, the lamps emit high-definition, full-spectrum lighting. They are as bright as a 300-watt halogen bulb with no harmful UV rays and produce 10,000 lux for Seasonal Affective Disorder.Despite this, Rohan, who has been studying SAD for over 15 years, felt that the University’s attempt to treat students with light therapy could be detrimental to their health. “A person who doesn’t know what they are doing can really do a lot of damage,” she said.According to Rohan, improper use of the lights can cause headaches, eye strain, wired feelings and, in some cases, extreme mania, insomnia and early morning waking.”I think it is really dangerous that students are just plopping themselves down in front of these medical devices in an unmonitored fashion,” Rohan said. “Self-diagnosis is dangerous.”The signs offer no information of the risks or how to use the lights.Haas was even unaware that there was any need to regulate his time in front of the lamps.”I usually sit there from one to three hours,” he said. “I have never really noticed feelingany different, but I would like to be warned about the possible dangers.”Rohan’s main concern is that a mental health provider can watch for side effects and alter doses for someone with SAD. Students lounging in the Davis Center are not getting that, she said.  According to the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms, light therapy involves “exposure to intense light under specified conditions,” and sessions are altered based on individual needs and equipment used.”The University has a responsibility to do the research so that we as students are aware of what we are being exposed to,” freshman Rachell Coon, who has frequently sat under the SAD lights, said.Coon, like Haas, was also unaware of the benefits or harm they could bring her.UVM senior staff psychologist Walter Brownsford, who wrote the innovation grant to the Center for Health and Wellbeing for the SAD lamps, was also unaware of the risks.”I knew the lights were helpful for people with SAD, so I started thinking, why don’t we have satellites [SAD lamps] around campus?” he said.Director of Student Life and the Davis Center Patrick Brown selected the location that is now home to these lights.”The Counseling Center wrote the signs up. I put faith in them dealing with whatever needs to be [on the signs],” Brown said.Even for students suffering from SAD, Rohan encourages other options besides light therapy.”[Light therapy and anti-depressants] just suppress the symptoms, so they have to be continued with regularity over time — cognitive behavioral therapy may actually have long-time benefits,” Rohan said.In the future, the Counseling Center is looking to better inform the students. “There is not a lot of clarity on the instructions to use these lamps, and there should be,” Brownsford said. “I will press on that and it will definitely happen.”