Outdoor swimming to treat depression to be trialled as alternative to drugs

·2-min read

Prescribing outdoor swimming for depression is going to be trialled as an alternative to medication.

Scientists want to examine the benefits for people with mental illness offered by ecotherapy - therapeutic intervention through nature.

Experts from the University of Portsmouth will be working with Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust to examine how a dip in nature compares to antidepressants.

Exercise is already recommended by the NHS as a means to help with low moods for people who suffer with depression.

Immersion in cold water has been shown to reduce stress levels, and a search is on for volunteers for the new study who will take part in a swimming course.

Swimming lessons will take place at Parliament Hill in London, Lenches Lake in Worcestershire, and Saunton in north Devon.

The results of the swimmers will be compared against a control group using existing treatments for depression.

It comes as scientists and doctors re-examine their understanding of depression following research that suggested some of the mechanics of how the condition worked may be incorrect.

A spokesman for the University of Portsmouth said: "The study, funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), will provide preliminary support for using outdoor swimming as an alternative to antidepressants or talking therapies."

Co-author Dr Heather Massey, from the University of Portsmouth's Department of Sport, Health and Exercise Science, said: "In this new study we are looking at outdoor swimming as part of social prescribing, which looks to support members of the community who are self-referred or referred by a number of professional organisations to community activities that will support them.

"It's a step up in terms of scientific rigour."

The mental health charity Mind already recommends ecotherapy.

Its website says: "Ecotherapy is a formal type of therapeutic treatment which involves doing outdoor activities in nature."

Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK

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