Toronto Public Library shedding light on Seasonal Affective Disorder

Two white lamps that look like props from a sci-fi film sit in the common area of the Brentwood Library. But they're not common

A pilot project is giving people free access to light therapy

Tiziano Vanola, head of the Toronto Public Library's Brentwood Branch, said he was happy to flick the switch on a pilot project that will give people free access to light therapy lamps. (Laura DaSilva/CBC )

Two white lamps that look like props from a sci-fi film sit in the common area of the Brentwood Library. But they're anything but common or the stuff of science fiction.

They're light therapy lamps, designed to mimic the sun and treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that some people experience during the dark winter months.

They're part of a Toronto Public Library pilot project that aims to help people ward off the winter blues while they read.

"These lamps help people combat the lack of sunlight we suffer from here in the winter," said Tiziano Vanola, the  branch head of the Brentwood library, which is located near Bloor Street West and Islington Avenue..

Research by the Canadian Mental Health Association suggests two to three percent of Ontarians have SAD and another 15 percent experience symptoms.

Two light therapy lamps are available on a first-come-first-served basis at the Brentwood and the Malvern branch — located near Markham Road and Sheppard Avenue East — alongside information pamphlets that walk people through how to use them safely.

Jordan Hamilton, who suffers from depression, can't afford a light therapy lamp of her own and said she is excited to use the ones at the library. (Laura DaSilva/CBC )

Cost can keep people in the darkness 

Jordan Hamilton walked into the library to return books Monday evening and was excited to see the light.

"I think it's just wonderful that such an important institution is seeing that these are things that people need," she said.

The 21-year-old has depression, and said her symptoms get worse this time of year.  She's been borrowing her counsellor's light-therapy lamp because she can't afford to fork out three or four hundred dollars to buy one of her own.

She said using the lamp for 30 minutes each morning greatly reduces her fatigue and anxiety.

"It's really nice that I can just come here and hopefully, more and more branches will have it."

Light therapy lamps will be available at the Toronto Public Library's Brentwood and Malvern branches until the end of April. (Laura DaSilva/CBC )

Giving people access 

Library member Joan Hart is happy to see the lamps at her Brentwood branch. "It's quite a public service," she said. "People would have trouble managing this on their own."

Jacob Dick guesses some people suffering from SAD won't feel comfortable coming to a public place to use the lamps, but applauds the library for making them available.

"Any place that someone can give it a try is a good idea," he said. 

Vanola said giving people access to the lights was the driving force behind the project. "Because they're very expensive, it gives people the opportunity to try them out and see if it's something they would like to invest their money into," he said. 

And the project is part of the library's larger, city-wide goal. 

"With our new strategic plan, we want to make Torontonians resilient and successful," Vanola said. "This is one of the ways we're going to do that."

The pilot project will run until April. After that, the library will go through feedback and decide whether to add lamps to other branches.