You may have picked up on the recent debates in the press on depression and the efficacy of exercise as a cure.  If you suffer from depression this could well have piqued your interest (or ire!).  Findings cited in a research article published in the BMJ and widely reported in the press on the beneficial effects of exercise on depression state that, contrary to popular opinion, these effects are negligible.  This runs counter also to advice often given to depressives by doctors and mental health workers.   It produced an irate response in an article in the Guardian by Simon Hattenstone  – himself a sufferer of depression.

What was so illuminating were the comments following Hattenstone’s article.  These views from readers reinforce the views and findings of many of my own clients, both past and present, who work so hard towards finding ways of either eliminating or coping with depression.  What emerges very clearly is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution or cure for depression; depression means different things to different people, and since it has so many variables the solutions to coping with it are also variable.  At the risk of sounding simplistic what this means for clients is: whatever works for you, do it.   In this way, any effects and gains can be sustained.

These are some of my clients’ discoveries:

  • Exercise of any kind helps, particularly if it takes place outdoors, because you force yourself to go out into the world and so feel more a part of it; you feel more in control of your life;
  • For some the beneficial effects of  exercise may not be lasting, clients therefore consider it as one of a range of activities which help;
  • Others have found that exercise only helps if  it’s a group activity – for these clients lone walking or running only increases their sense of isolation  and muddled thinking;
  • Exercise like jogging or going to the gym isn’t a chosen solution for some clients because they can’t sustain it, it can therefore compound a sense of failure;
  • Yet other clients report that at least trying to exercise is important for them, they feel less guilty about being depressed, and they enjoy feeling physically healthier;
  • Other of my clients who have active, high-profile lives often find that sitting in a heap or going to bed for a while helps them – they need to bunk off from the world for a bit.  For them knowing when and how to re-emerge becomes the skill they hone;
  • A client who cycles to work in the city (he has given me permission to cite his experience here) finds the activity requires him to be so alert in the interests of his safety that it helps his depressive episodes and ‘takes him out of himself’, giving him, in addition, a sense of achievement and boosting his confidence;
  • Others report that any activity, be it undertaken individually or in a group,  is helpful if it provides another focus, establishes a routine and breaks the patterns which have developed around the depression;

What happens in solution-focused therapy sessions where the problem is depression, is that I facilitate clients to find an individual solution to a highly individual problem.  Helpful in this search for solutions is the consideration of  instances and exceptions in clients’ lives when depression doesn’t have so much of a grip.  What was and is happening at these times and how can these exceptions and instances be built upon  to improve quality of life and deprive depression of it’s sting?

P.S  For those interested in the above debates here’s another vexed question about depression: how much is depression learned?   You may wish to read this article in the New Scientist as well.    See what you think…