Red Light Therapy for Depression: A Beacon of Hope

red light for mental health


What is Depression?

Depression, also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression, is a common and serious mood disorder. It’s more than just feeling sad or going through a rough patch. It’s a serious mental health condition that requires understanding, treatment, and a good deal of support.

People with depression experience a persistent and intense feeling of sadness or loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed.

Symptoms of Depression 

red light for mental health

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or emptiness.
  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness.
  • Irritability or restlessness.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities.
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.
  • Fatigue or decreased energy.
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping.
  • Appetite or weight changes.
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts.
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment.

Depression affects everyone differently, and it can vary in severity from mild to severe. It’s important to note that help is available, and with appropriate diagnosis and treatment, most people with depression will overcome it. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of depression, it’s important to seek help from a healthcare professional.

Benefit of Red Light Therapy for Depression

  • Improved Mood

Red light therapy has been shown to stimulate the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. This could potentially help alleviate symptoms of depression.

  • Reduced Inflammation

Chronic inflammation has been linked to depression. Red light therapy has anti-inflammatory effects, which could potentially help reduce depression symptoms.

Red light therapy can help regulate circadian rhythms, leading to improved sleep. Poor sleep is often associated with depression, so improving sleep can help alleviate depression symptoms.

  • Neurogenesis

There’s some evidence that red light therapy can stimulate the growth of new neurons in the brain, a process known as neurogenesis. This could potentially help alleviate depression.

  • Increased Energy

Red light therapy helps stimulate cellular energy production, which can lead to increased overall energy levels. Fatigue and lack of energy are common symptoms of depression, so this could potentially help.

Red light therapy, also known as photobiomodulation (PBM) or low-level light therapy (LLLT), has been studied for its potential benefits in treating various health conditions, including depression. Here are some studies that have explored this topic:

  • A study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) discusses how altering cellular function using low-level, non-thermal LED light can be a medical treatment modality of increasing clinical importance. The light in the spectral range from 600 to 1300 nm is useful due to its high degree of penetration in skin and absorption by respiratory chain components.
  • Another pilot study on light therapy adherence reported a similar nonadherence rate to antidepressant medication studies. The study suggests that any immediate mood improvement can help alleviate hopelessness in patients dealing with depression. Even if modest, this early improvement may also impact patient views of light treatment.
  • A study titled “Shining light on the head: Photobiomodulation for brain disorders” describes the use of red or near-infrared light to stimulate, heal, regenerate, and protect tissue that has either been injured, is degenerating, or else is at risk of dying.
  • An article on Red Light Therapy Home discusses the theory that chemical imbalances in the brain can cause emotional/mental problems. This imbalance occurs because of deficiencies in neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline in the central nervous system (CNS). Red light therapy is suggested as a potential treatment to address these imbalances.
  • Cleveland Clinic mentions that red light therapy is a treatment that uses low wavelength red light to reportedly improve your skin’s appearance, such as reducing wrinkles, scars, redness, and acne. It’s also touted to treat other medical conditions, potentially including depression.

These studies and articles suggest that red light therapy could potentially be a beneficial treatment for depression. However, more research is needed to fully understand the implications and effectiveness of this treatment. Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new treatment.

There is a growing body of research suggesting that red light therapy may have potential benefits for those suffering from depression and other mood disorders.

red light for mental health

  • Red Light Therapy for Anxiety and Depression at Home discusses how understanding the pathophysiology of depression is crucial to comprehend how red light therapy can positively influence mental/emotional disorders like anxiety and depression.
  • Healthline explains that light therapy may improve the symptoms of depression by working on your biological clock and aligning your brain’s 24-hour cycle.
  • A Controlled Trial to Determine the Efficacy of Red and Near-Infrared discusses photobiomodulation (PBM) or low-level light therapy (LLLT), a medical treatment modality of increasing clinical importance. This therapy uses non-thermal LED light to alter cellular function.
  • Improvement in Depression Scores After 1 Hour of Light Therapy states that light therapy is an effective treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), with effect sizes similar to those of antidepressant therapy. The research has largely focused on antidepressant effects after a course of daily light treatment.
  • Red light therapy for mental health and wellbeing suggests that red light therapy can improve general positivity, calm, and reduce anxiety, and even reduce seasonal depression (SAD). However, it emphasizes that red light therapy should not replace working with a mental health professional or other treatments for anxiety, depression, or the like.

These studies and articles suggest that red light therapy could be a promising tool in managing depression and other mood disorders. However, as with any treatment, it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the best course of action for individual circumstances.

Red light therapy has been studied for its potential benefits in treating mood disorders, including depression. Here are some key findings from various studies:

  • A review and meta-analysis of the evidence on the efficacy of light therapy in treating mood disorders found that light therapy, including red light therapy, has a significant impact on mood disorders. The study abstracted articles and synthesized data by disease and intervention category, providing a comprehensive overview of the potential benefits of light therapy for mood disorders. Read More
  • Another study focused on the immediate mood improvement with light treatment, supporting an immediate “brain stimulating” effect of light therapy. In this study, participants reported their mood before and after an initial light therapy session. All participants received 1 hour of light plus 1 hour of placebo dim red light in a randomized crossover design. The results showed an improvement in depression scores after 1 hour of light therapy. Read More
  • The use of light for its antidepressant action dates back to the beginnings of civilization. Three decades ago, the use of bright-light therapy (BLT) for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) was officially proposed. Since then, a growing scientific literature reports its antidepressant efficacy in both unipolar and bipolar disorders (BD), with or without seasonal patterns. Read More


In conclusion, red light therapy presents a promising, non-invasive treatment option for depression and other mood disorders. Its potential to stimulate cellular function, improve energy production, and reduce inflammation could address some of the underlying physiological factors associated with depression.

While more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms and optimize treatment protocols, early studies and anecdotal reports are encouraging. It’s important to note that red light therapy is not a standalone treatment for depression but could be a valuable addition to a comprehensive treatment plan that may include medication, psychotherapy, lifestyle changes, and other interventions.

As always, individuals should consult with their healthcare provider before starting any new treatment. Mental health is complex and requires a personalized, multifaceted approach. With continued research and clinical application, red light therapy could become a standard part of the conversation when discussing treatment options for depression and mood disorders.

Remember, if you or someone you know is struggling with feelings of depression or suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately from a healthcare professional. You are not alone, and there are resources available to help.