Italians Make Sport of Depression Treatment
> 1/29/2007 12:49:28 PM

Physical activity has often been used as part of the depression treatment process as well as for other mental illness treatments. Various studies have shown that increased exercise and more rigorous activity can have strong effects toward helping people regain greater control over their lives. Now, as a doctor in Italy discusses with Newsweek, soccer is being utilized as a part of the treatment process for many afflicted with serious mental health problems in that soccer-loving European country.

Newsweek had the opportunity to interview Dr. Santo Rullo, an Italian psychiatrist who has integrated soccer into his treatment strategy over the last couple of decades. Rullo and his team attracted the attention of a documentary film crew who have made a new film entitled Matti per il calcio, which translates to Crazy for Soccer. The film's website can be found here (and a translated version here).

What is perhaps most interesting about Dr. Rullo's treatment is his focus on using soccer, a team sport, because it includes elements of the physical activity that can be so beneficial, but also because as a team sport, soccer requires high levels of teamwork and cooperation. One of the Newsweek interviewer's questions makes that point clear.

Many of the patients also talk about how, when they get out on the soccer field, the voices stop or they feel normal.

This is precisely the benefit of soccer as a therapy. It is really the social inclusion. The problem is that mental illness is almost always treated first by exclusion. A group sport like soccer helps to facilitate the inclusion of each member. The most important aspect of this program is that we also make sure the patients have information about their illness, that they are aware of their own limitations and fully understand the parameters of their illness, when possible.

Dr. Rullo also points out that soccer is an ideal choice for Italians in his program because the sport is such a strong part of their culture that it helps clients reconnect to their past. He mentions that a similar program in the US might utilize baseball or basketball. Perhaps of the two, basketball provides the better analogy, because as a game of highly sophisticated teamwork, basketball could provide much of the same benefits that soccer provides to these Italian players.

Certainly, there is enough anecdotal evidence, just from Rullo's work, to demonstrate that this type of program could have great success in many treatment environments. He has documented greater levels of happiness on the part of his soccer players, as well as reduced reliance on pharmaceuticals as part of their treatment. In this case, the added health benefits from the physical activity are an added bonus.

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