The choice of an after-school activity might lead to better mental health… or depression. The finding comes from two new studies that looked at teens' extracurricular activities and the youngsters' states of mind.
An analysis of teens involved in arts programs such as music, drama and painting found that they were more likely than teens not involved in these activities to report feeling depressed or sad. The researchers from Boston College say this is the first time such a link has been found. Lead author Laura Young stresses that the study does not suggest that “depression is a necessary condition…to become an artist.”
Nor, she says, does the study show that participating in the arts leads to mental illness. She believes that people drawn to the arts may have certain cognitive or personality traits – such as introversion – that have been linked both to depression and to a preference for solitary activities like painting.
The Boston College study also found that teens involved exclusively in sports were the least likely to report depressive symptoms. But students doing both arts and sports activities had the same depressive symptoms as students involved in the arts who did not participate in sports. That led researchers to conclude that arts participation rather than a lack of sports participation was associated with students' depression.
Another study, from Orebro University in Sweden, shows that depression and low spirits can be alleviated by a different type of extra-curricular activity — dancing. One-hundred-and-12 female teens – all of whom had complained of symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue and headaches – were divided into two groups. One group of girls danced together two days a week, and the other group made no changes in its activities. The dancers all reported increased self-esteem as long as eight months after the training ended.