Numerous accounts of high profile sports people suffering from depression have surfaced in recent times. Unfortunately, not all cases have been reported by the victim and recent newspaper reports in Ireland revealed the tragic loss of a talented young inter county senior hurler. He was one of many that suffered in silence. The opening up of some former players on their troubles is extremely healthy as for years, people have suffered in silence, ashamed to reveal their reality to the people around them. Unfortunately, this has often ended in tragic circumstances.

Many former premiership players have struggled in life since leaving football due to a sense of emptiness and lack of purpose. Numerous former greats turn to alcohol and drugs to get the kick they once received off the adulation and adrenalin they received from playing in front of big crowds. Neil Ruddock revealed his struggles in a documentary while Paul McGrath revealed his struggles with coping in life through his autobiography while an Arsenal star of the early nineties was reported recently to have fallen on hard times. German goalkeeper Robert Enke ended it all a few years ago as he struggled to cope with depression. Numerous former superstar boxers have died in tragic circumstances as they struggle to live a life without the fame and adulation they received during their careers.

This depression is not just for the famed and rich sporting stars. Unfortunately, we live in an age where people want things instantly. With social media’s capacity to spread a perception that people are living fantastic lives of joy with extreme levels of fun, we sometimes question our own existence and wonder if we are living the life that our peers enjoy. We question our very being and some as a result perceive themselves to be inadequate in this modern world where everybody is living a fabulous life.

Young people feel pressure to achieve this mythical existence and as a result, many feel like a failure and disenfranchised from society when in actual fact, they are living a perfectly normal life. There is also pressure on young people to look the part. Many young and not so young girls specifically portray themselves in tight revealing clothes in social media photos for the sole reason of approval from their friends. Watch out for the comments “you look absolutely gorgeous”. Why is it that people feel the need to specifically portray themselves in such a manner for this type of peer approval. Why is it that people feel the need to be told they are great, gorgeous and fantastic at every juncture. Is it because of insecurity over weight issues when the obesity epidemic is slowly strangling our youth like ivy does a tree. There are so many insecure people out there needing such affirmation and when it isn’t received, it often manifests itself in depression.

So what is depression and how is it diagnosed?

The NHS (2010) have diagnosed depression as having at least four of the following feelings for over two weeks.

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Poor concentration
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Sadness and irritability
  • Depressed mood
  • Low energy
  • Loss of interest or pleasure
  • Feelings of guilt or low self worth
  • Disturbed sleep or appetite

These problems can become chronic or recurrent and lead to substantial impairments in an individual’s ability to take care of his or her everyday responsibilities as they “try to keep up with the Jones’”.

Causes of depression are known to come from:

  • Low serotonin levels (Stockmeier, 1997)
  • Past experiences
  • Mourning
  • Under-active or overactive thyroid (Awad, 2000)

Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter, of which low levels are linked to depression. When the body is engaged in exercise, serotonin is slowly released from the brain and into the body to help muscles relax. This release of serotonin also affects the workings of the thyroid gland. If the balance is not right this thyroid gland may become under-active or overactive. The thyroid gland controls metabolic rate and if it is not working properly, can cause you to experience various symptoms.

Under-active thyroid: If it is under-active, you will feel sluggish and lethargic, may put on weight, and feel depressed.
Overactive thyroid: If it is overactive, you may feel very speeded up, lose weight and have symptoms similar to mania.

Psychologists use psychometric questionnaires to diagnose if people fall into the category that is depression. When they do, they are often referred to a physician for other consultation. Often the course of action is to prescribe mood suppressant tablets to alleviate such feelings of low self worth and negative thought. This is a massive money spinner for the pharmacology industry but often with little or no long term effect.

Of significant note however, these tablets do not address the root cause of the problem. What might help and alleviate these feelings is just simple honest expressing of your emotions to somebody you trust about how you feel. A problem shared is a problem halved. In years gone by, it might have been a heart to heart with a good friend. Now, the psychologist often steps into the breach as there is often a superficial relationship or lack of real closeness within modern “friendships”.

Many of these feelings of depression in people have manifested themselves as the obesity crisis has hit epidemic proportions. In fact there is a strong correlation between the growth of obesity and the growth of depression and suicide in the last ten years (Thorpe, 2009). Simon et al (2006) suggested that you have a 25% greater chance of suffering from anxiety or depression if you are obese. Therefore as the obesity epidemic has struck, the growth of depression and suicide has also risen astronomically.

The Role of Exercise

Clinical studies reveal that at least 33 clinical studies have identified that regular physical activity has a positive effect on mood and subjective well-being (Biddle, 2009). Stathopoulou & Powers (2006) and Chaouloff (1997) showed that exercise improved psychological and emotional health as it:

  • Reduces/alleviates depression, stress and anxiety.
  • Reduces negative mood and enhances positive mood.
  • Enhances self-esteem, confidence and sleep
  • Improves quality of life.
  • Improves social relationships.
  • Increase serotonin levels in the brain

This is ignoring the impact that exercise could have on reducing levels of obesity…..and accordingly reduction of feelings of low self worth.

So what is the moral of the story?

  • Exercise to feel good.
  • No man is an island. Talk in an open and transparent manner to somebody you trust about your feelings, no matter what they are.
  • Don’t believe the lie that everybody including your friends is fantastically happy from their posts and pictures in social media.

As stated earlier, causes of depression are known to come from

  1. Low serotonin levels (Stockmeier, 1997)
  2.  Underactive or overactive thyroid (Awad, 2000)
  3. Past experiences
  4. Mourning

While exercise can have a significant impact, it is not the only answer and doesnt address the bottom 2 listed causes. To address these, one really needs to talk about issues affecting you with somebody you trust…… A problem shared is a problem halved!

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