Many children and adolescents suffer from clinical depression. That is why experts have recently come up with guidelines that recommended routine screening for depression in the younger segment of the population. The guidelines also recommended psychotherapy or psychotropic drugs or both in the management of clinical depression in adolescents. But aren’t there other ways – especially non-pharmacological approaches to manage depression?
Researchers at the Medical College of Georgia looked at the effect of exercise on depressive kids. The participants were 207 weight children aged 7 to 11 years old. The participants were tested for depressive symptoms using the Reynolds Child Depression scale as well as the Self-Perception Profile for Children, a test which measures childrens’ perception of themselves before (at baseline) and after the study. The children were randomly assigned to three different physical exercise regime which lasted for 13 weeks
- Group one: a “low-dose” exercise group which was physically active20 minutes each day
- Group two: a “high-dose” exercise group which was physically active for 40 minutes each day
- Group three: a control group which consisted of sedentary children.
Exercises consisted of activities which were fun but maximized for intensity and designed so that the participants’ heart rates exceeded more than 150 beats per minute.
The study results showed that depressive symptoms improved significantly with increasing exercise time even though no noticeable weight increase was observed. It seems that exercise has a positive impact on the children’s self-esteem. However, this positive effect was only observable in white but black participants.
Physical activity has been shown to greatly help in managing depression in adults. In patients who suffered from stroke or cardiac events, exercise helps in improving health outcomes. In patients with primarily clinical depression, exercise leads to release of the hormone endorphin which induces positive feeling. The study results here suggest that physical exercise can positively affect children’s self-worth should therefore be considered as intervention against depressive symptoms.
This is very relevant considering the results of another study last year which showed that American children take more psychotropic medications that their counterpart in Western Europe. Comparing the US with two European countries, the annual prevalence of use of psychotropic medications is:
- US – 6.7%
- The Netherlands – 2.9%
- Germany – 2.0%
The most common of these psychotropic drugs were antidepressants and stimulants and there was a tendency for multiple drug therapy among US kids. There is some indication that Europeans tend to use alternative ways of managing depression – including exercise.