Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

The Role of Sport and Exercise in Recovery from Serious Mental Illness: Two Case Studies

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

The Role of Sport and Exercise in Recovery from Serious Mental Illness: Two Case Studies

Article excerpt

Despite continuing interest in the physical activity-mental health relationship, few studies have recently been published concerning the effects of exercise for men with serious mental illness. This study helps fill this gap through an interpretive approach that explores how sport and exercise can contribute to recovery from mental illness. Case studies of two men's experiences are presented that illustrate two distinct roles sport and exercise can play. In the first case, sport and exercise are central to the participant's identity and fundamental to his sense of self. For this individual, returning to sport and exercise following remission of psychotic symptoms represents a return to intrinsically meaningful activities. In the second case, sport and exercise are used as a tool or vehicle for desired outcomes that facilitate personally meaningful vocational activities. For this individual, sport and exercise represent a fresh start and a worthwhile use of time.

Keywords: mental health, schizophrenia, physical activity, case study, exercise, sport

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The mental health benefits of sport, exercise, and physical activity are a topic of continuing interest reflected in the ongoing publication of research in this area (e.g., Craft, 2005; Faulkner & Biddle, 2004; Stathopolou, Powers, Berry, Smits, & Otto, 2006). While studies continue to be published concerning the psychological effects of physical activity for men with mild to moderate mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, few studies focussing on the effects of exercise for men with serious mental illness [1] have been published (Richardson, Faulkner, McDevitt, Skrinar, Hutchinson, & Piette, 2005). This may be an oversight as existing research suggests sport and exercise can provide several benefits for men with serious mental illness such as schizophrenia. In their review of the literature on exercise and schizophrenia Faulkner and Biddle (1999) noted that:

   It is evident that the existing research does not allow any firm
   conclusions to be made as to the psychological benefits of exercise
   for individuals with schizophrenia. It does, however, support the
   efficacy of exercise in alleviating the negative symptoms [2] of
   schizophrenia and as a coping strategy for the positive symptoms.
   [3] (p. 453)

The small number of studies published since Faulkner and Biddle's review support the potential of sport and exercise to alleviate symptoms of mental illness (Beebe, Tian, Morris, Goodwin, Allen, & Kuldau, 2005) and suggest that sport and exercise can provide other benefits for men with serious mental illness such as valued opportunities for social interaction and support (Carless & Douglas, 2004; Carter-Morris & Faulkner, 2003; Fogarty & Happell, 2005), while helping them feel more energetic, less stressed, and to sleep better (McDevitt, Snyder, Miller, & Wilbur, 2006).

A key reason for the small number of published studies is the considerable difficulties that arise when conducting physical activity research in the context of serious mental illness (for further discussion, see Carless & Faulkner 2003; Faulkner & Biddie, 1999; Faulkner & Carless, 2006). In particular, several issues make conducting traditional research designs such as clinical trials problematic:

   Responses to exercise and preferred modalities are highly
   individualized, making it difficult to design programs for maximum
   appeal to the majority of persons. The disease of schizophrenia
   includes wide variability in baseline functioning, motivation,
   pharmacologic treatments and the like, which makes drawing
   conclusions across populations problematic. Clinical studies are
   further hampered by concerns over adequate diagnosis of
   schizophrenia and comorbid conditions that could affect exercise
   response. (Beebe et al., 2005, p. 673)

Further, according to Martinsen (1995), although self-report questionnaires are used widely with other populations, they are not considered reliable with psychotic patients. …

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