Exercise And Teen Suicide
The beneficial effects of regular, enjoyable exercise have been well documented. The therapeutic impact on physical and emotional health has been highlighted in many scientific studies and health-related blogs. Weight management, maintaining a healthy heart, improving sleep efficiency, maintaining muscle mass and strong bones, and improving overall cognition and mood have been demonstrated to in all ages.
Regular healthy exercise helps maintain overall health, and can be an important component of an effective treatment strategy for a number of physical and mental disorders. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reported that bullied teens who exercised four or more days per week were 23% less likely to experience suicidal thoughts. The lead author of the paper, Jeremy Sibold, EdD, ATC, of the University of Vermont, collected data on 13,583 high school students from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The survey data revealed that 30% of students reported a sad mood for greater than two weeks the previous year, with 22% reporting suicidal thoughts and 8% reporting a suicide attempt. Sixty percent of adolescents who were bullied reported feeling sad, and were three times more likely to report suicidal thoughts compared to peers who were not bullied. However, students who exercised four or more days a week were significantly less likely to experience sadness and suicidal tendencies compared with students who exercised one day a week or less.
These findings are not surprising. It has been shown that exercise can be a treatment for depression in all ages. Its potential psycho-social benefits are also well documented. A critical component of this study that was not discussed is the role of adult supervision. Bullied teens are often very angry and frustrated, with their core self-esteem very fragile. An effective exercise program needs to be sensitive to these issues. Allowing teens to choose a program they enjoy, and providing encouragement, are necessary for success. Having a mental health professional available for confidential counseling is also very important.
As with all exercised-based interventions, the exercise program is only one piece, albeit a foundational piece, of a larger puzzle. Given these results, it seems vital to maintain physical activity programs for all teens, not just those participating in organized sports.