In recent years, mental health has come to the forefront of health issues that have increasingly been given importance when the subject of overall health and well-being is discussed. And for good reasons. But what exactly is mental health and why is it receiving much attention of late?
Mental health is a state of mental well-being and covers many aspects of our health – not just emotional and psychological but also social, affecting the way we think, feel, and act. It is important at every stage of life, impacting how we handle stress and relate to others. Mental health is crucial to determining our overall well-being since our state of mental fitness may increase the risk for chronic physical health conditions. As an example, depression may lead to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. This can also be applicable in reverse, when chronic conditions may increase the risk for mental illness.
Mental health is also a dynamic condition, changing through different stages of life. When demands become overwhelming and exceed your coping abilities, you may become at risk of poor mental health. It can also be highly recurrent, especially in parts of the population that some studies suggest as being genetically predisposed and vulnerable to repeated depressive episodes.
Recent statistics show that over 2 in 5 Australians from the ages of 15-85 may have experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime. This represents 44% or 8.6 million of the total population. While anxiety disorders ranked first as the most common type of disorder, it is followed by affective disorders that include depressive episodes.
What is Depression?
Also termed as ‘clinical depression’ or ‘major depressive disorder,’ depression can be defined as feelings of extreme sadness or low mood lasting over two weeks that get in the way of living your daily life. Depression can stem from any number of complex social, neurological, psychological, economic, and cultural factors that in turn, include internal and external factors.
Examples of internal factors are genetics, medications, and biological reasons such as brain chemistry, hormones, and the like. External factors include grief, trauma, abuse, life changes, and social isolation, among many others. Some symptoms of depression are feeling numb or sad for no apparent reason, loss of interest in social events, negative self-talk, feelings of worthlessness, suicidal thoughts or planning, and a host of others.
Is Depression a disability?
Depression can be considered a disability under certain circumstances, particularly if it substantially limits one or more major life activities. In many jurisdictions, including the United States under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), mental health conditions such as depression are recognized as disabilities if they meet certain criteria.
The ADA defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include things like caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.
Depression can impact various aspects of daily life, including the ability to work, maintain relationships, and engage in social activities. If depression significantly impairs an individual’s ability to perform major life activities, it may be considered a disability under the ADA, and the individual may be entitled to legal protections and accommodations in certain contexts, such as employment or access to public services.
It’s important to note that the determination of whether depression constitutes a disability may vary depending on individual circumstances, the severity of the condition, and applicable laws and regulations in different jurisdictions. Additionally, seeking guidance from legal professionals or disability advocacy organizations can provide more specific information and assistance regarding disability rights and accommodations.
How is Depression a Hidden Disability?
Mental health issues such as depression may be considered a hidden disability in instances when it affects your day-to-day living, and activities such as participating in the community, working, and observing self-care.
Some of the conditions included in the hidden disabilities list are wide-ranging – from anxiety disorders to schizophrenia and cystic fibrosis to diabetes, among many others.
Depression is categorised under psychosocial disabilities, a condition that makes it difficult for a person to accomplish daily activities, manage stress, focus, venture to certain places, be present in some environments, and interact with others.
People living with depression can benefit greatly from seeking professional help and support. If you’re diagnosed with depression, mental health professionals will collaborate with you in coming up with a sensible treatment plan that may include psychological therapy, lifestyle changes, and medications.
What can exercise do for depression?
Physical activity is a vital component of proven lifestyle changes that may aid in alleviating the symptoms of depression, alongside a proper diet and a healthy amount of sleep. Exercise has many known benefits including protecting against the risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease which may be precipitated by depression. Physical activity may also help improve sleep quality as well as lower blood pressure.
High-intensity exercise is associated with the release of endorphins, our bodies’ feel-good chemicals. This is linked to what athletes call the ‘runner’s high’, a sensation of immense joy or calm following a vigorous training session.
On the other hand, there may be practical value in pursuing sustained, low-intensity exercise. This kind of training helps in the release of neurotrophic or growth factors which helps nerve cells to grow and make new connections. In this light, low-intensity exercise may help improve brain function and make you feel better by supporting nerve cell growth in the region that regulates mood – the hippocampus — and alleviating symptoms of depression.
Either way, both high- and low-intensity exercises are beneficial in helping take your mind off the usual worries and break the cycle of negative thoughts.
What exercise is best for depression symptoms?
While exercise may not be among the things you’d like to consider doing when you have depression, it may just make a big difference. The challenge is in getting started, especially when depression manifests itself physically like having body aches, sleep disturbances, and reduced appetite. Beginning with small steps may help break this cycle. Remember that any exercise or physical activity will be better than none at all.
Structured exercise programs such as lifting weights, playing basketball, and other sports can be a big help. However, activities that include gardening, hiking, walking, or cleaning the house, even if these are less intense than exercise programs, may also offer benefits to improve your mood as some studies show.
While the standard prescription for exercise regardless of physical or mental health condition is 30 minutes a day, 3 to 5 times a week, this is not a hard and fast rule. Smaller, shorter chunks of activities can also be impactful like 10-15 minutes of activities that add up throughout the day.
Perhaps, the more important point is choosing an exercise or activity you can truly enjoy as the mental health benefits will last only if you sustain the activity over the long term. You may be able to feel the improvements in a few weeks of exercising; the caveat is that this is not a one-time fix. Picking an activity that you really like to do is crucial to making this a part of your lifestyle and enabling you to keep enjoying the mental health benefits in the long run.
If you have not been active for a long time, it’s prudent to seek the advice of a health expert such as an Exercise Physiologist before embarking on an exercise program. This can help you get on an appropriate program or activity that is safe and effective for your physical and mental condition.
Let our Allied Health experts help improve your mental health using exercise
Our experienced and well-trained Exercise Physiologists and Physiotherapists are always ready to support and guide you in navigating through your health journey. After a thorough assessment, we will collaborate with you in creating a treatment program customised to your mental and physical conditions. This is the best way to ensure optimal outcomes. A supportive team and an inclusive environment can also go a long way toward helping you tap into exercise to ward off the symptoms of depression.
Like in all our other Allied Health Clinic locations, our Hurstville clinic features a hydrotherapy pool and gym to ensure you get access to a more holistic approach to training.
Training in water can be a relaxing experience that may help improve your mood. Exercising in our Hydrotherapy pool also offers many other benefits such as less strain on your joints and improved flexibility, balance, and range of motion. On the other hand, our gyms are well-equipped to let you exercise safely and effectively in an inclusive environment.
Our Allied Health Clinic in Hurstville also hosts our Staying Active Group Classes for 50+ older adults. Group classes can be helpful in cases when the depressive episode is caused by social isolation and lack of interaction with others. For Hurstville, you can join our Ageless Aquatics class every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday at 9 AM. There’s also a land-based strength training group class, Strong and Steady, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, at 10 AM. To book a class or to know more, just call 1300 090 931.