Health & Beauty | November 2005
|Swimming With Dolphins Lifts Depression: Study|
Taking a dip with dolphins can be a tremendous therapy for people with depression, according to a study published 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 anti-depressant 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 randomized, 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."