Library offering light therapy to those suffering from seasonal depression

Lawrence Public Library, pictured Aug. 20, 2015.

The Lawrence Public Library is offering patrons a bit of sun — in the form of lamps designed to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder — inside its doors this winter.

Visitors this week may have noticed the lights, which effectively replicate sunshine, stationed in the library’s auditorium, along with comfy chairs and plenty of reading material.

And so far, the response has been positive, says Kate Gramlich, a readers’ services assistant at the library who first approached administrators with the idea earlier this year.

Gramlich, who has suffered from seasonal depression in the past, recognized a need for a welcoming, nonintimidating outlet for others who may be struggling with the feelings of hopelessness and decreased motivation that often accompany the shorter, darker days of winter. Light therapy (i.e., sitting near one of the special lamps for roughly a half hour each day) has helped her before, she said, and could help others, if given the chance.

“People can come in, and maybe just being around people would be helpful,” Gramlich says of the lamp area, which library staffers are also stocking with literature on preventing and treating seasonal depression from Lawrence’s Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. “Or maybe if you’re sitting and reading quietly by yourself, you might feel like you accomplished something that day by going and trying something.”

In the winter, Gramlich says, when folks often leave for work in the morning while it’s still dark out and head home in the evening when it’s even darker, feelings of isolation and sluggishness can easily begin to creep in. “The prospect of bundling up and going out in the world is more exhausting when it’s cold and then also when you are feeling depressed,” she says.

The National Mental Health Disorders Association estimates that 10 to 20 percent of the population suffers from mild winter Seasonal Affective Disorder, with nearly 5 percent experiencing a more severe form of the disorder. Many of us, even those without a diagnosis or even an awareness of the condition, may still experience winter blues on some level, Gramlich says.

She hopes the lamps, which retail for about $50 on Amazon, will offer some comfort to anyone who may need it this season.

The message of the library, Gramlich says, is a simple one: You’re not alone. Acquiring and installing the lamps has been a “community effort” in itself, she says, with several library staffers lending their personal lamps to the cause.

“As soon as I brought it up, a lot of people were like, ‘Oh, I’ve got one of those,'” Gramlich says, referring to the UV-blocking lamps. “It’s not something that anybody talks about. So maybe if a patron comes in and sits down and realizes they’re by a few other people, they might think, ‘I’m not the only one feeling this way.'”

In the meantime, Gramlich and her fellow staffers are hoping to keep the lamps stationed around the library until at least Jan. 31.