Exercise therapy treats depression


London:The last three years have seen a significant rise in the number of GPs prescribing exercise to people with mild to moderate depression, according to new research* from the Mental Health Foundation.

The charity says that 22% of GPs now prescribe exercise therapy as one of their three most common treatments for depression compared with only 5% three years ago.

The new figures also show a change in GPs’ beliefs about exercise therapy. Almost two-thirds of GPs (61%) now believe a supervised programme of exercise to be ‘very effective’ or ‘quite effective’ in treating mild to moderate depression, in comparison to 41% three years ago. And two thirds of GPs (66%) who currently do not have access to an exercise referral scheme say they would use one if it were available.

1 in 6 GPs (16%) have noticed an increase in the number of people asking whether exercise would be a suitable treatment for their depression.

The Mental Health Foundation has been campaigning for the last three years to increase the use of exercise referral for mild to moderate depression. The charity warns that despite growing interest among patients and changes to GP attitudes, exercise on prescription is still not widely available – with less than half of GPs (49%) able to access an exercise therapy referral scheme for people with depression.

Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said:

“It is excellent news that GPs are now turning to exercise therapy to help people with depression. There is a real need for increased availability of exercise on prescription so that it is accessible alongside antidepressant medication and psychological therapies. Depression is a complex illness – it is important that GPs have a range of treatments to offer and that people with depression have a choice.”

The Mental Health Foundation is now working to expose the barriers that prevent exercise therapy from being offered universally. The research programme, partly funded by the Department of Health, involves the charity working with six sites across England that run exercise referral schemes**.

The research findings will be published in early 2009, in addition to a toolkit that will include practical advice on setting up and delivering an exercise referral scheme, as well as training packages for referrers in primary care and industry staff involved in exercise therapy delivery.

Two information booklets about exercise and depression are available from the Mental Health Foundation – ‘How exercise can help beat depression’ for patients and ‘Exercise referral and the treatment of mild or moderate depression’ for GPs and healthcare practitioners. Download from www.mentalhealth.org.uk or telephone 020 7803 1100.

* Total sample size was 200 GPs – the survey was carried out by GfK HealthCare. The Up and Running? report published by the Mental Health Foundation in 2005 includes the results of 200 GPs polled three years ago – www.mentalhealth.org.uk

** The participating six sites are located in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, London, Northamptonshire, Redcar and Cleveland, and the Wirral.

About the Mental Health Foundation:

The Mental Health Foundation uses research and practical projects to help people survive, recover from and prevent mental health problems. We work to influence policy, including government at the highest levels. And we use our knowledge to raise awareness and to help tackle the stigma attached to mental illness. We reach millions of people every year through our media work, information booklets and online services.