Depression All in the Mind? Term Paper

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ALL in the MIND?

Depression and Physical Activity

Depression has been described as a lingering feeling of sadness and hopelessness, characterized by low mood, and directly or indirectly linked to an external cause (Gianoulis and Rose 2002). It can be casual or serious. Either way, this "common cold of psychiatric illness" lasts for weeks or months. Despite the awareness of the disorder for hundreds of years, the number of people with its symptoms continues to rise since the start of the 20th century. Many psychiatrists consider depression an organic disease developing from chemical imbalance in the brain. Social analysts, on the other hand, attribute it to psychosocial stress. Psychological stress, they said, is the inevitable product of current-day industrial and technological society. Support systems from families, communities and extended families have broken down. The condition creates a sense of isolation and alienation, which in turn, induces depression. In most cases depression is triggered by trauma, stress or a major loss, such as a valuable relationship, a loss of home or loss of job. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classifies depression as a "building block" rather than a disorder. A person who exhibits a depressive episode may be diagnosed as having substance-induced depression, a general medical condition, a major or mild but chronic depression, or a bipolar disorder, also called manic depression (Gianoulis and Rose).

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TOPIC: Term Paper on Depression All in the Mind? Depression and Assignment

Social, psychological and genetic factors together predispose a person to depression or protect against it (Satcher 1999). Stressful life events are acute or chronic misfortunes or adversities that befall and drive him to depression. The death of a loved one is among the most powerful events and a universal experience. Common symptoms of the grief are crying and loss of appetite, weight and sleep. The grief in depressive disorder is often followed or accompanied by complications, like incapacity, psychosis or thoughts of suicide. Other stressful events are past parental neglect, physical and sexual abuse and other forms of maltreatment on one's well-being and brain function. Early disruption of attachment bonds or maternal deprivation can also predispose a person to a lifetime of over-reaction to stress. Hence, mild treatment in early life can predispose him against severe stress and pains in later life (Satcher).

Cognitive theories hold that depression can develop out of the individual's view and interpretation of stressful events in his life (Satcher 1999). Depression can grow from learned helplessness and entrapment. In this learned view of his situation, he becomes inactive, immobile and unable to learn how to avoid certain circumstances and events. Ample evidence exists to show that the person's stress derives from his interpretation of its meaning. That interpretation leads him to perceive the source of stress as a threat or danger, which he is unable to ward off. He thus interprets the event as one of loss and responds to is with depression (Satcher).


Common current-day treatment of depression consists mainly of medications (Gianoulis and Rose 2002). These medications include tricyclics, which effectively control the symptoms of classic, melancholic depression. They, however, also produce side effects, such as the "flight or fight' response, rapid heart rate, sweating, dry mouth, constipation, and urinary retention. Another class of antidepressant medications, called the monoamine oxidase inhibitors or MAOIs, are effective in managing "non-classical" depressions. But they also produce greater problems on account of their interaction with other drugs, alcohol, tricyclic antidepressants, anesthetics and foods with tyramine. The latest in the class of remedies has been the group of neurotransmitters called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors or SSRIs. These include Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft. They have been found to be effective in combating the symptoms of major depression and chronic depression. They have shown to have fewer negative effects. But their serious side effects, however, include reduced sexual drive or sexual difficulty, panic attacks, aggressive behavior and allergic reactions. Psychiatrists also prescribe mood stabilizers, such as lithium, which naturally occur in the body. Other drugs used to treat extreme cases of depression are anti-psychotics or neuroleptics and neurotoxins. Neuroleptics can have very adverse effects from Parkinson's disease to general immobility. Although the antidepressant industry has grown to a billion-dollar business, three out of 10 sufferers do not respond to antidepressants. And of the seven who do, some do not experience a disappearance of the symptoms. Therapists now suspect the effectiveness of the "chemical solution" to the problem of depression. They bother over the adverse effects, which manufacturers of antidepressants downplay or cover up (Gianoulis and Rose 2002).

Physical Activity as Treatment

The 1996 Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health said that mental disorders accounted for a large part o the public health burden in the country (Camacho 2000). Studies conducted by the National Institute of Health and other groups found that more than 5% or 17 million Americans suffer from clinical depression, with 5% more experiencing milder symptoms. Statistics showed that $43 billion is spent and lost each year on medications, professional care and lost school and work days. Exercise has been found to help treat and avoid depression in many ways. It releases natural pain-killers, endorphins, which also lift the mood. At the same time, endorphins reduce the level of the stress-depression hormone cortisone in the bloodstream. Exercise also raises self-esteem by producing or inducing feelings of accomplishment and autonomy. Researchers assumed that the main effect of regular physical activity on depression consists of enhancing the mood and cognitive functioning and raising self-esteem and confidence (Camacho).

Recent studies were conducted at the Duke University on the positive effect of physical activity on depression. The results of the major study said that acute or strong dose of physical activity, rather than sustained regular exercise, could be the most effective way to handle or reduce feelings of depression, anger and fatigue. It was part of a larger, five-year study, which compared the treatments for depression. These were a four-month exercise program, drug therapy, and a combination of exercise and medication. It tested a group of 55 respondents, over 50 years old. After the test, 82% reported reduction of depression, tension, fatigue, anger and confusion (Camacho). (lead study, conducted by R.K. Dishman of the American Academy of Kinesiology and Physical Education, found that physical activity produces positive effect on depression and anxiety Camacho 2000). Researchers pointed to this as the result of the action of endorphins in the central nervous system. They also raise the body and brain temperature, distract the mind from the depression, and, thereby, produce or substitute the sense of well-being. Another study was conducted by D.M. Landers on the influence of exercise on mental health. It suggested that aerobic exercise created the greatest positive effects and should last for more than 10 weeks at frequent sessions. Exercise decreases depression more than relaxation does as a form of psychotherapy. It can be used as a positive component of treatment (Camacho).

Other findings presented other benefits from exercise. One said that depression can be affected by changes in exercise habits (Camacho 2000). It suggested that those with low levels of activity stood a higher or greater risk of developing depression than those with high levels of activity. A study conducted by RR Yeung showed that physical activity improved the mood of those who suffered from hypertension, anxiety and bulimia. And one more study found that exercise has beneficial effects on sleep disorders. It used two groups of older individuals who had sleeping problems. One group was made to exercise while the other remained sedentary. After four months, those who exercised reported sleeping for one hour longer than the sedentary group. Those in the first group also fell asleep faster and felt more rested upon waking up. Andrea Dunn of the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research and her team revealed that exercise helps protect against depression and reduce the symptoms of the disorder. Physical activity also helps decrease recurrence levels, which can go as high as 50%. They listed the psychological benefits of exercise for senior citizens. It retains vitality, mobility, and independence; improves physical and emotional sense of well-being; raises or increases self-esteem and enjoyment of life; increases social contacts; reduces sense of social isolation; and improves sleep (Camacho).

A recent study of 156 men and women with major depression compared the effects of exercise with those of medications (Running & Fit News 2001). The subjects either exercised for 40 minutes, took prescription antidepressants, or did both. Results showed that although the subjects responded more quickly to medications, over time, the effects of exercise benefited them just as well as medications. Other tests with animal subjects showed best results with a combination of exercise and medications (Running & Fit News).

Aerobic Exercise recent study randomly investigated 80 persons, aged 20-45, who suffered from mild to moderate depression (Slawson 2005). They were asked to perform exercise in three or five sessions at high-dose and low-dose and then compared. Results showed that those who performed either high-dose or low-dose aerobic exercise felt better. The finding supported that of an… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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