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The Unexpected Therapeutic Anecdote for Treating Depressive Disorders


Plt, Y. (2019, August 2). Photo by Yns PLT on unsplash. Beautiful Free Images & Pictures. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://unsplash.com/photos/NY1D4Zni7fc


Since the pandemic started, the conversation surrounding mental health has expanded and we have collectively become more familiar with isolation, loneliness, and a myriad of other consequences of such unprecedented times. It has necessitated a reflection on what life used to look like, and illuminated the different ways in which our mental health has been affected. With a number of financial, institutional and structural barriers to mental health care and support, many of us are looking for accessible and somewhat less “clinical” remedies to increase our enjoyment, pleasure and overall quality of life.


This blog examines one of the more unexpected approaches to alleviating depressive and related disorders: climbing. Physical exercise has long been utilized for combatting different mental disorders, and the literature suggests that virtually all physical activity can help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with poor mental health by means of increasing neurotransmitters that are involved in positive mood including dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin (Lambert, 2021). The question is: which forms of physical exercise are most efficacious in the treatment of depressive disorders? Despite limited research, the literature that is available indicates that climbing is one of the best ways of increasing subjective well-being and targeting symptoms of depression (Karg et al., 2020).


A study by Karg and colleagues indicated that “bouldering psychotherapy is more effective in the treatment of depression than physical exercise alone” (2020). The study utilized a multicentre randomized controlled intervention trial where 133 outpatients diagnosed with depression were placed into a “bouldering psychotherapy group” (BPT) or a “home-based supervised exercise programme.” The researchers conducted pre and post tests using the Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale to assess baseline ratings of depression. After ten weeks, participants were evaluated for various subjective feelings including anxiety, self esteem, body image as well as interpersonal sensitivity. The results indicated that those in the BPT group demonstrated a “significantly larger decrease in depression” as opposed to those in the control (Karg et al., 2020).


What is particularly special about climbing (whether it be bouldering or on rock) is its synthesis of concentration and creativity with high intensity physical engagement. This specialized exercise of both mind and body may account for why it has been so effective at providing overall relief. Climbing necessitates careful planning, strategizing and overcoming fear all while maintaining physical fitness and technique required to remain clung to the wall (Prior, 2018).


Although climbing alone may not be an adequate treatment for most people dealing with mental health issues, it is important that the research regarding its efficacy is further explored and made available to those who may benefit from it. Moreover, with findings being continually replicated, it is crucial that we begin to broaden the way we look at mental health treatment options, and continue to push for both their availability and accessibility.


References

  1. Copeland, D. (2021, December 13). The calculated madness of Marc-André Leclerc. Climbing. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://www.climbing.com/people/profile-of-alpinist-marc-andre-leclerc/

  2. Karg, N., Dorscht, L., Kornhuber, J., & Luttenberger, K. (2020, March 12). Bouldering psychotherapy is more effective in the treatment of depression than physical exercise alone: Results of a multicentre randomised controlled intervention study - BMC psychiatry. BioMed Central. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12888-020-02518-y

  3. Lambert, K. (2021, August 1). The mental health benefits of climbing. Climbing. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://www.climbing.com/news/mental-health-benefits-of-climbing/

  4. Prior, R. (2018, September 27). How rock climbing can help overcome fear, defeat Depression and change your life. CNN. Retrieved February 11, 2022, from https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/27/health/staying-well-rock-climbing/index.html

  5. Synnott, M. (2021, May 3). Free solo climber Alex Honnold ascends Yosemite's el capitan without a rope. Adventure. Retrieved February 12, 2022, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/article/most-dangerous-free-solo-climb-yosemite-national-park-el-capitan



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