University of South Carolina

USC seeks volunteers for study on postpartum depression

The University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health is seeking volunteers for a study to determine whether bright-light therapy can relieve symptoms of postpartum depression.

About 15 percent of new mothers experience postpartum symptoms that frequently go undiagnosed and untreated, and that estimate is probably conservative, said Shannon Cornelius, an exercise-science doctoral student who is leading the study.

“A driving force behind this project is that there is no Food and Drug Administration-approved medication for these women. There have been no studies to see what happens when medications currently available to treat postpartum depression pass through to the infant in the mother’s milk,” she said.

The ongoing study is recruiting 20 new mothers who have given birth within a year. Participants can have a variety of symptoms, including depression, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, sleep and/or appetite disturbances, loss of energy/fatigue and and feelings of worthlessness/guilt.

After an initial interview, eligible mothers will have a baseline fMRI – a specialized MRI scan to map brain activity – and complete baseline questionnaires about their mood, fatigue, sleep quality and how they are feeling.

For two weeks, one group of women will self-administer bright-light therapy for 30 minutes a day upon rising. The procedure involves sitting or working near a device, called a light-therapy box, which gives off a bright light that mimics natural outdoor light.

Other study participants will undergo a similar therapy using a negative-ion generator for the same duration.

During the course of the study, participants also will be asked to wear a wrist monitor, called an actigraph, which looks and acts just like a wristwatch. The device will be used to measure sleep quality and amount of daily light exposure. The actigraph gives an objective reading of how much sleep the mother is getting. Lack of sleep also can contribute to depressive symptoms, she said.

The end of the study will feature another round of questions and a second fMRI to measure any physiological changes that occur with the therapy.

Participants’ identities will be confidential throughout the study, she said.

For information on participation in the study, contact Shannon Cornelius at 803-777-7296 or email,

By Office of Media Relations

Posted: 08/18/10 @ 5:00 PM | Updated: 08/18/10 @ 4:59 PM | Permalink

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