Tag Archives: Teen mental health

A New Prescription For Depression: Join A Team And Get Sweaty

Ryan “China” McCarney has played sports his entire life, but sometimes he has to force himself to show up on the field to play pick-up soccer with his friends.

“I’m dreading and I’m anticipating the worst. But I do it anyway. And then, it’s a euphoric sensation when you’re done with it because you end up having a great time,” says McCarney.

McCarney was just 22 when he had his first panic attack. As a college and professional baseball player, he says getting help was stigmatized. It took him six years to get professional support. He still struggles with depression and social anxiety, but says exercising helps him — especially when it’s with his teammates.

Research shows exercise can ease things like panic attacks or mood and sleep disorders, and a recent study in the journal, Lancet Psychiatry, found that popular team sports may have a slight edge over the other forms of physical activity.

The researchers analyzed CDC survey data from 1.2 million adults and found — across age, gender, education status and income — people who exercised reported fewer days of bad mental health than those who didn’t. And those who played team sports reported the fewest.

One of the study’s authors, Adam Chekroud, an assistant adjunct professor at Yale’s School of Medicine, thinks team activity could add another layer of relief for sufferers of mental illness.

He says there are biological, cognitive and social aspects to mental illness.

“Some sports might just be hitting on more of those elements than other sports,” he says. “If you just run on a treadmill for example, it’s clear that you’re getting that biological stimulation. But perhaps there are other elements of depression that you’re not going to be tapping into.”


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Now, this study only shows an association between group exercise and improved mental health, and can’t prove that the one causes the other. But, given what is known about depression in particular, it adds up, says Jack Raglin, a professor in the department of kinesiology in the School of Public Health at Indiana University, Bloomington.

People who are depressed often isolate themselves, he says, so exercising in a group setting, “can help alleviate symptoms and deal with this very pernicious symptom of depression.”

Group exercise or team sports might also have an edge over other forms of exercise because they add an element of accountability, says Raglin. He did a study finding that couples who started an exercise program together had a lower dropout rate than those who started one on their own.

The study showed that “very simple forms of social support can be beneficial,” he says.

Scientists don’t know the exact mechanism that makes exercise elevate mood and decrease anxiety, but there is a body of research to show that it does work on the short and long term.

“If you conceptualize exercise as a pill it means, well it’s a rather small pill and easy to take and easy to tolerate,” says Raglin.

One limitation of the Lancet Psychiatry study is the data is based on patients self-reporting their symptoms. Dr. Antonia Baum, a psychiatrist and the past president of the International Society for Sports Psychiatry says patients don’t always give an accurate picture of their mental health. She says the study is an important step in this research field, but the conclusions shouldn’t be taken as scientific gospel.

“We are animals. We are meant to move and if we don’t, a lot of systems slow down, including our mood and cognition,” says Baum. “So it makes intuitive sense that exercise is beneficial, but it’s nice to try to start to wrap our arms around being able to quantify and qualify that in some ways.”

Baum says she works with each of her patients to incorporate exercise into their lives. And she says this study will be a good jumping off point for more research on team sports and mental illness.

But, Baum and other researchers say getting someone who is depressed to start exercising is easier said than done.

“It’s all well and good to conclude that exercise whether it’s done as a solo or a group pursuit is beneficial, but to get patients to do it is another matter and when you have a depressed patient motivation is often lacking,” she says.

Chekroud says getting patients in general to stick to any kind of therapy is challenging.


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“It’s not just exercises that people stop doing, they also stop taking medications. They stopped showing up for therapy,” he says. “Adherence is a big problem in health care right now,”

He says the study’s findings could lead to more tools to help people reduce the overall burden of mental illness, now the leading contributor to the global burden of disability.

“The field is really crying out for things that we can do to help people with mental health issues,” says Chekroud.

For McCarney, team sports have helped him get a handle on his symptoms, he says. Before social gatherings, he often feels claustrophobic and panicked, but when he works through the anxiety and gets onto the field, he says it’s always worth it.

“It just gets you around people which I think is another huge thing when you’re trying to maybe break out of a depressive cycle,” he says.

How to get started

For some people, the idea of joining a team or any kind of group fitness activity is terrifying. Here are a few tips for getting started.

Find a sports ambassador. Raglin recommends finding a “sports ambassador,” a friend who can connect you with a group sport or activity. The friend can get you up to speed on the sport and what’s expected of you. Team sports may feel like a leap of faith, says Baum. But, she says the rewards are worth it. “It’s like playing in an orchestra — the sum being greater than the parts — truly thrilling when it all comes together,” she says.

Match your skill level. It’s not hard to find amateur sports teams to join, on sites like meetup.com. A lot of workplaces also have team sport activities, but Raglin says you make sure the skill level is right for you. You’re more likely to have a good experience and want to go back. “There is nothing worse than being on a team where the skill or intensity of the players is way above or below your own level or the level of competition you were looking for,” Raglin says.

Join a run or bike club. If you’re not into team games, go to your local run shop or bike shop to find run communities, bike clubs or community rides to join. Raglin recommends the November Project, which is a free fitness program with chapters in major cities around the world that hosts workouts.

Put money on the line. If you really aren’t into team activities, Baum says getting a personal trainer or signing up for a gym can “help add a social element, and that all important accountability.”

Try the obvious thing first. Baum says to look at the activities you’ve done throughout your life and think about which ones worked best for you. She says she sometimes takes her patients running or walking with her for a therapy session to start modeling the types of exercises that could work for them.

Sasa Woodruff is a freelance radio reporter and producer based in Los Angeles. Article, courtesy of NPR.


Reports of mental health issues rising among postsecondary students: study

A fifth of Canadian postsecondary students are depressed and anxious or battling other mental health issues, according to a new national survey of colleges and universities that finds more students are reporting being in distress than three years ago.

Reports of serious mental health crises such as depression and thoughts about suicide also rose.

“The survey tells us what the situation is, it doesn’t necessarily tell us the why,” said Rachelle McGrath, a team lead for Wellness Services at Mount Royal University. “It’s our job to try and figure out why.” Ms. McGrath is a member of the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS), the group that released the study.


One of the most striking findings was that 8 per cent fewer students than in 2013 felt their health was very good or excellent. Between 3-per-cent and 4-per-cent more said they had experienced anxiety, depression and stress that had affected their academic performance.

Five-per-cent more women said they had experienced sexual touching without consent, as did 1-per-cent more men.

Some of the increases could actually be a positive sign that more people are willing to talk about how they feel, rather than reflecting a decline in mental health among postsecondary students.

“It could be that there is increased occurrence of mental illness, but it could also be that campuses are creating environments where students feel it’s safe to come forward,” Ms. McGrath said.

Still, some of the statistics in the report should raise immediate alarm and lead to action, she added.

The number of students saying they seriously considered suicide in the prior year was 13 per cent, up 3.5 per cent from 2013, for example.

“That is something that is clear, we don’t want people to be considering suicide,” she said.

The increase in stress and anxiety is happening at the same time that students say they are exercising and sleeping less. In 2013, over a quarter of students said they hit the gym for at least 20 minutes three times a week or more. Last year, only 22 per cent had been that active.

“It’s all interconnected, bad sleep means less capacity to manage your emotions, means more anxiety,” said Janine Robb, the executive director of the Health & Wellness Centre at the University of Toronto and also a member of CACUSS. “It’s hard for students to see the importance of resting and taking time away. It’s counterintuitive to them when they feel they should be studying and doing an all-nighter,” she said.

Not all trends were negative. More young women said they had the HPV vaccine that protects against cervical cancer. Several provinces offer the vaccine for free through public school boards. Vaccinations against other infectious diseases were also up.

As well, fewer college and university students said they had driven after drinking. Binge drinking is on the decline too: The percentage of students who said they had more than seven drinks at one time was down 1 per cent.

Improving mental health could take more resources, said Jennifer Hamilton, the executive director of CACUSS.

The survey “builds a case for increased resources to help support student mental health on campus and for health professionals to be able to understand what is really happening with our students,” she said.


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Team Unbreakable Expansion into Toronto continues

TEAM UNBREAKABLE programs are expanding into the Toronto area, thanks to generous funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

With OTF funding, Team Unbreakable was able to hire full time staff to talk to Toronto schools and to help them implement the program.

“We are encouraged by the responses we have been receiving,” says Carl Worrell, Executive Director for CameronHelps, the charity responsible for Team Unbreakable. “There is definitely a need in the schools that can be filled by the program, which focuses on wellness and physical health for mental health.

“Our program staff in Toronto, John Knox and Nils Blondon, have been great ambassadors for the program and are logging lots of miles in reaching out to many schools that have shown an interest in the program,” he adds. “Many additional schools are interested in joining up for later this fall or for a spring 2017 start time.”

Here is a brief profile of the schools:

Central Technical School Central Tech is one of Toronto’s oldest schools, and boasts a sizeable student body comprised of youth from the city-over. “Tech” is Team Unbreakable’s second Toronto start-up. The group is led by Jemina Delazar, long time ESL teacher at Central Tech and marathon runner. The Tech Group meets every Tuesday and Thursday, and boasts a diverse, enthusiastic group of fledgling Team Unbreakable athletes.

Harbord Collegiate Institute (H.C.I. or Harbord) is a public secondary school located in downtown Toronto. The school is the only one in Toronto to curate and host its very own museum, dedicated to its storied history. Daniel Leblanc is the Team Lead at Harbord. Mr. Leblanc is an avid runner and multiple time participant of the Boston Marathon. The Harbord Team grows every week, and meets on Tuesday and Thursday.

McDonald International Academy (MIA) is a fully registered and accredited secondary school approved by the Ontario Ministry of Education and Training. It was the first school in the Toronto 2016 roll-out to start a Team Unbreakable Run Group. The McDonald Team is comprised of youth from all over world, reflecting the diversity and inclusion that embodies the school. The McDonald Program runs on Monday and Thursday, and is the first Team Unbreakable group to be 100% student lead.

Maplewood High School, a specialized vocation high school located on 120 Galloway Rd, Scarborough, was one of the first schools in Toronto to host a Team UNBREAKABLE Program. We’re proud to be a program in a school where, in January 2016 Principal Duncan LeBlanc was named one of Canada’s outstanding principals. Aislinn Clancy has been the dynamic, kind, and enthusiastic Team Lead at Maplewood for the start. Maplewood has a large team of over 20 active participants.

In addition to these five schools, two more schools. West End Alternative School and the YMCA Academy, will be starting in November.