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Football fights depression

08 December 2009 British Psychological Society (BPS)

Despite being a significant risk group, young men are amongst those least likely to seek professional help when mentally distressed or suicidal. The 'Back of the Net' programme, a pilot initiative using football and cognitive behavioural based techniques was effective in decreasing symptoms of depression in young men. Such programmes may offer a highly accessible and cost-effective alternative route to mental health promotion in this challenging target group.

These findings today, Friday 11 December, reported by Siobhain McArdle from Dublin City University to the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society's Division of Clinical Psychology, held at the Congress Centre, Great Russell Street, London WC1.

Dr McArdle and her colleagues studied 104 sedentary males aged between 18 and 40. The men were assigned to three groups: some undertook individual exercise, some took part in a group that played football and followed a cognitive behavioural based therapy (CBT) programme, and a control group that did no exercise. The football plus CBT group incorporated the "Back of the Net" intervention, which makes use of football metaphors. This involved both participation in conditioned football sessions and interactions within each session to facilitate the transfer of lessons from the sport context into everyday life (i.e., problem solving, communication, goal setting).

The participants in the three groups were evaluated before, during and after the intervention and again eight weeks later. They found that the participants who had taken part in the exercise programmes showed significantly lower symptoms of depression (a key factor associated with suicide risk in young men). Dr McArdle says: "The two physical activity based interventions were both effective in reducing symptoms of depression in young men. However, the "Back of the Net" intervention was specifically designed to use a low-barrier vehicle for mental health promotion. This was achieved using a popular sport to take mental health promotion onto their turf. Future research should continue to explore community-based interventions with young men that combines exercise and cognitive behavioural therapy interventions.

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