Bringing a Little More Light and Reducing Stigma: Light Therapy in Public Libraries
Robin Mazumder knows first-hand just how shorter days, lack of sunlight and cold winter weather can impact mental health. That’s what makes the partnership between the Waterloo Wellington LHIN, the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre and the Kitchener Public Library, fostered through Robin’s connections and experiences, just that much brighter.
“I spent some time in Edmonton,” explains Robin. “I knew that the winter weather would be different from where I grew up in Victoria, BC. but I was unprepared for how the cold and lack of sunlight would affect me. I’ve dealt with mental health issues for a long time and my doctor said that seasonal affective disorder makes things worse.”
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons. Robin started researching light therapy lamps, recommended by his doctor to help with his symptoms.
“I was trying to find a way to make these lamps more accessible to help more people,” says Robin. “The lamps can be expensive ($200-$300) and I knew from my experience as an occupational therapist in mental health that so many patients live below the poverty line. Affordability is a huge barrier for the people who might benefit the most.”
This started an ongoing project to provide equitable, free access to light therapy lamps through community funds in public libraries; places where people from all backgrounds gather for information, resources or to just sit and enjoy a book. Because of Robin, light therapy lamps are available today in libraries in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Yukon, Athabasca, Toronto and now, Kitchener.
“I came to Kitchener to pursue a PHD at the University of Waterloo and met Elliot Fung from the Waterloo Wellington LHIN at a Hacking Health event,” explains Robin. “Elliot was there to speak about the Waterloo Wellington health innovation ecosystem and a light bulb went off. So I tweeted him to ask if he would be interested in partnering on a lamp project in Kitchener.”
After an initial meeting in December, light therapy lamps were purchased and installed in every branch of the Kitchener Public library early February thanks to funding from the Waterloo Wellington LHIN and the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre.
“I was ecstatic,” says Robin. “The lights being in a public space is very important. It helps to increase access to the therapy and for every person that uses one, it can help to open a discussion, break down stigma and normalize mental illness. Wherever I go, I want to try to facilitate similar projects.”
Robin Mazumder is the guest librarian for three months at Kitchener Public Library. He is currently pursuing a PHD with a focus on urban designs and mental health, public spaces and cognitive neuroscience. @RobinMazumder
Elliot Fung is the Director of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships at the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network. @ElliotGFung