Depression is the number one psychological disorder in the western world. It is growing in all age groups and in virtually every community, and the growth is seen most in the young, especially teenagers. This is not surprising as young people face a lot of self-imposed pressure – to have the ‘perfect’ body, to be rich and to be famous, just to mention a few. Everyday struggles of high unemployment and difficult home lives all slowly take their toll.
The World Health Organization has predicted that by 2020, depression will be the second most common cause of morbidity worldwide, just behind heart disease. Depression is a mental disorder that displays depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy and poor concentration.
For some time now, the positive link between exercise and mood has been clear. However, Birks (2007) noted that people suffering with depression found it difficult to maintain motivation for exercise due to the sometimes solitary nature of gym-based exercise. Also, in many areas gym membership can be costly or there may be a lack of local provision, making it difficult for people to access facilities; therefore, an alternative to independent exercise may prove more beneficial. Recent studies at two different universities found that dance lowers levels of stress hormones and significantly lowers levels of depression.
Dance not only is a great form of physical exercise, attending regular dance classes can also provide wider benefits. Social interaction, shared experience, concentrating on learning a new skill and the self-confidence they can bring all contribute to an improved self-esteem. Dance is also a great form of expression. It can be very difficult to talk about feelings and emotions; therefore, using music and dance to express thoughts may provide the release mechanism needed.
If growth is greatest in teenagers, a dance style that speaks to the younger generation, such as hip-hop, may have a huge impact in terms of releasing anger and pressures as well connecting with other young people facing similar issues. Some of the most influential artists have made very public the personal struggles they have faced, which have often been reflected in the music they have written. “Cleaning Out My Closet” by Eminem was written about his mom’s abusive behavior, and “Everyday Struggle” by Biggie was written about the challenges faced by children growing up. These are issues that young people can relate to, and dancing to this music may help them reflect on their own personal situations.
For many people, the thought of taking medication for depression is unappealing; however, this may be unavoidable and the need for such medication should not be ignored. Dance classes may be an unexplored option for the many people suffering from depression. Dance may provide a simple form of self-help that could be used alone or alongside medication or any other recommended treatment.
“Work like you don’t need the money, love like your heart has never been broken, and dance like no one is watching.” So dance away depression!