Professor makes case for exercise to help prevent youth suicide

Not all Canadian youth are responding to drug treatment programs in the fight against depression, according to Dr. Roberto Sassi of McMaster University.

The professor was speaking at the CameronHelps annual general meeting March 1, 2012 in Mississauga. There is an opportunity to do more research about the impact of exercise therapy programs on youth because the need is definitely there to supplement traditional methods of treatment, he said.

As Dr. Sassi notes, there is a resistance among children and young adults to engage in therapy. As well, long-term participation rates among youth in using drug therapy isn’t very high, as up to 40 % of patients drop out of their programs within eight weeks, Dr. Sassi said. There is also the stigma young people feel about going to a hospital for treatment for depression and taking drugs, he adds.

Additionally, studies have shown that there is also a less than stellar response to drug treatment. Up to 50% of young patients have only partial positive effects from taking traditional medication, Dr. Sassi said.

On the other hand, exercise provides a host of benefits to youth, he said, such as: no side effects, higher self-esteem, a sense of accomplishment and a biological release of positive chemicals. Kids are more accepting of exercise programs, there are health side-benefits and it’s a diversion from their depression, he adds.

Since 2001 there have been about five reviews of exercise as therapy for depressed youth, but the parameters have not always focused just on teens and run therapy programs. However, there is good evidence that with better fitness, there is a reduction of depression among participants, Dr. Sassi notes. He also stated that in some cases, physical activity was shown to be just as effective as drug therapy in treating mental health issues.

Dr. Sassi said McMaster University is excited about partnering with CameronHelps to do further research to determine the influence of physical activity on depression and mental illness. They will be developing a questionnaire and database for participants of the CameronHelps-supported run therapy programs in Toronto, Waterloo and Mississauga which run for 13 weeks in the spring of 2012.

The research will help the University understand why some individuals improve through different means of treatment and why other’s don’t. The research may show that there are different pathways to treatment and help to understand mitigating factors, he said.

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