Nick Carmody
JD, MS Psych Psychotherapist

Adversity Doesn't Build Character, It Exposes it....


Below is a modified version of something I wrote after hearing a grad school classmate described the negative effects she experienced from taking antidepressants.  During a routine visit, the classmate mentioned to her doctor (general practitioner) that she had not been feeling like her usual self.  Without any inquiry into her lifestyle (diet/sleep/exercise) or suggestion of less invasive therapies/remedies, the doctor subsequently wrote her a prescription for an antidepressant. 

Too often as a society we look for “get rich quick” remedies for whatever inconveniences us.  This certainly applies to the treatment of mental health in U.S., where about 30 million Americans (1 in 10) are taking antidepressants, with that number jumping to one in four for women in their 40s and 50s (Rabin, 2013).  In total, about 270 million prescriptions for antidepressants are filled each year in the United States (Cole, 2013).  Amazingly, the U.S., with less than five percent of the world’s population, purchases more than 50 percent of the world’s prescription drugs (Werth, 2013).  As a result, 70% of Americans are on at least one pharmaceutical drug, over 50% of Americans take at least two pharmaceutical drugs, and one in five (20%) Americans take FIVE different pharmaceutical drugs (Mayo Clinic, 2013). And as of 2010, American teens were taking an average of 1.2 central nervous system drugs for ADHD/Depression/etc. (Kliff, 2012). 

The data is especially frustrating considering that research has shown that exercise is highly effective in the treatment of mental health issues such as Depression (Schuch et al, 2016), Anxiety, (Asmundson et al, 2013), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (Pontifex, Saliba, Raine, Picchietti, & Hillman, 2013), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Rosenbaum et al, 2015), the neurocognitive decline that occurs with the aging process (Behrman & Ebmeier, 2014), and even addiction (Zhou, Zhao, Zhou, & Li, 2016). 

A closer look shows that acute exercise has been shown to positively influence the aspects of cognition that are negatively influenced by ADHD deficits.  With these cognitive deficits being mirrored by the effects of exercise, the children experience increases in the allocation of attentional resources, and in the facilitation of stimulus classification and processing speeds, especially for tasks that require increased inhibitory control.  As a result, researchers have found that single, twenty-minute bouts of moderately-intense exercise improves cognitive functions, concentration, reading and math performance, and inhibitory control (Pontifex, Saliba, Raine, Picchiett, & Hillman, 2013).   Furthermore, research has shown that exercise produces an immediate, antidepressant-like effect on the brain (North, McCullagh, & Tran, 1990); and in many cases, has been found to be more effective than pharmacology in the treatment of depression (Babyak et al, 2000).