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NewsAsia 25 Nov 05
Swimming with dolphins lifts depression: study
PARIS : Taking a dip with dolphins can be a tremendous therapy for people with depression, according to a study published on Saturday in the weekly British Medical Journal (BMJ).
Nature lovers - biophiles, to give them their scientific name - have long argued that interaction with animals can soothe a troubled mind but this claim has always been anecdotal, lacking the scientific data to back it up.
Seeking to find out more, psychiatrists Christian Antonioli and Michael Reveley at Britain's University of Leicester, recruited 30 people in the United States and Honduras who had been diagnosed with mild or moderate depression.
The severity of their symptoms was calculated according to established yardsticks for mental health, the Hamilton and Beck scales, which are based on interviews and questionnaires with the patient.
The volunteers were required to stop taking any antidepressant drugs and psychotherapy for four weeks.
Half of the group was then randomly selected to play, snorkel and take care of dolphins each day at an institute for marine sciences in Honduras. The other half was assigned to a programme of outdoor activities, also at the institute, that included swimming and snorkelling at a coral reef, but without the dolphins.
Two weeks later, both groups had improved, but especially so among patients who had been swimming with the dolphins. Measurable symptoms of depression in the dolphin group had fallen by half and by two-thirds according to the two scales - twice as much as in the non-dolphin group.
In addition, a self-rating measurement of anxiety symptoms, the Zung scale, found a fall of more than 20 percent among the dolphin group, compared with a decline of 11 percent among the non-dolphin groups.
"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first randomised, single blind, controlled trial of animal-facilitated therapy with dolphins," say Antonioli and Reveley. "The effects exerted by the animals were significantly greater than those of just the natural setting. The echolocation system, the aesthetic value, and the emotions raised by the interaction with dolphins may explain the mammals' healing properties." - AFP /ch
EurekAlert 24 Nov 05
Swimming with dolphins can alleviate depression
Randomised controlled study of animal facilitated therapy with dolphins in the treatment of depression BMJ Volume 331, pp 1231-4
Swimming with dolphins is an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression, say researchers in this week's BMJ.
Their findings support the theory of biophilia, which shows how human health and wellbeing are dependent on our relationships with the natural environment.
The study was carried out in Honduras and involved 30 patients diagnosed with mild or moderate depression. Half were assigned to the experimental group and half to the control group. Over a two-week period, participants in the experimental group swam and snorkelled in the water with dolphins for one hour a day.
Participants in the control group were assigned to the same water activities, but in the absence of dolphins, to control for the influence of water and the natural setting. All participants discontinued antidepressant drugs or psychotherapy at least four weeks before entering the study, and were not allowed to take drugs during the study.
Depression scores were measured before the study and at the end of treatment. Although some participants dropped out of the study, the average severity of the depressive symptoms was more reduced in the experimental group than in the control group.
Animal facilitated therapy with dolphins is more effective than water therapy in treating people with mild to moderate depression, say the authors.
Despite some study limitations, the effects exerted by the animals were significantly greater than those of just the natural setting. The echolocation system, the aesthetic value, and the emotions raised by the interaction with dolphins may explain the mammals' healing properties, they suggest.
Three months after the study, participants in both groups also reported lasting improvement and did not require treatment. This suggests that in patients with mild or moderate depression, using drugs or conventional psychotherapy may not be necessary when biophilic treatment with animals is used, they conclude.
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