The results and subsequent discussions have been blasted across all news media, and are proliferating rapidly.
Anyone with an exercise bike has been chiming in; some say their depression didn’t go away with exercise, some say it did. With glee, many reporters emphasize one particular result of the study, that “there is such a thing as too much exercise.”
The researchers measured “self-reported mental health.” Naturally, they also reported that more study was needed; needing more study (i.e. needing more research funds) is a standard result of many self-perpetuating studies. One could say they are exercising their right to continue working.
For this study, the only mental health disorder that the researchers took into account was “depression,” using something called the “Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System,” with questions such as “Now thinking about your mental health, which includes stress, depression, and problems with emotions, for how many days during the past 30 days was your mental health not good?”
We’re incredulous that this ridiculous research is given so many column inches of press, and that it took 1.2 million people to decide that sometimes exercise helps one feel better and sometimes it doesn’t.
If exercising sarcasm were a disease, we’d probably be dead by now.
OK, let’s look at this from another point of view. First, what do people actually mean by “good mental health?” We often say that psychiatry produces no cures, and for good reason. But what would a mental health cure look like? We’d probably call that “good mental health.” Here’s what we think:
We generally take cure to mean the elimination of some unwanted condition with some effective treatment. The primary purpose of any mental health treatment must be the therapeutic care and treatment of individuals who are suffering emotional disturbance. The only effective measure of this treatment must be “patients recovering and being sent, sane, back into society as productive individuals.” This, we would call a cure.
So, good mental health must then be “operating sanely in society as productive individuals.”
Second, what do people actually mean by “depression?” We often say that there is no such disease as depression, since there are no clinical tests for it. There are two main possibilities — one is an undiagnosed and untreated medical condition; the other is the opposite of good mental health, which would be “operating insanely in society as non-productive individuals.”
So what is the cure? In the first case, using standard clinical tests (blood tests, urine tests, x-rays, DNA tests, MRI, ultrasound, etc.) find and treat the actual medical condition. In the second case, get busy being productive; and hence we get the occasional benefits of exercise as it relates to the productivity of one taking some responsibility for one’s own health.
We might say that depression could actually be low morale; and since morale is based on production, find something useful to do and hop to it!