We do everything within our power to make sure our children are healthy: bringing them to the doctor, giving them proper rest when they’re sick, enrolling them in extracurricular sports activities, and managing their diet. But as much as we care for their physical wellbeing, we tend to underplay the seriousness of mental health issues in children.
It’s not because we don’t care. Nothing hurts us more than seeing a distraught child. Rather, it’s that stigma about mental health that makes us reluctant to label a child as suffering from a mental condition that might require medication, and hope that depression is just a “bad mood” that will pass on its own.
A study from 2018 found that as much as 12% of adolescents and preteens may be suffering from major depressive disorder, but because of the different way depression manifests in youths compared to adults, it goes under diagnosed. The Child Mind Institute claims 60% of children and teens suffering from depression receive no treatment. How serious could it be in children? Beyond impaired learning capabilities, major depressive disorder also causes self-harming tendencies in children and adolescents.
But what if there was a way to preempt depression in your kid, altogether?
One symptom associated with depression is a shrinking hippocampus, the area in the brain in charge of long-term memory and reaction to stress. Well, a recent study found that correlation can be flipped on its head in boys.
Specifically, what they found is that among both boys and girls, participation in team sports was associated with a larger hippocampus, and in the case of boys, was also an indicator of a smaller chance to suffer from depression. The gender disparity in the results raises interesting questions. For example, does depression function differently in girls, compared to boys? Since only preteens participated in the study, it remains unknown if team sports are more effective in predicting or mitigating depression among adolescent girls or adult women.
Curiously, engaging in individual athletic activities that weren’t social, or stimulating team activities that weren’t physical, did not have the same effect.
A possible explanation of this unique phenomenon is that it is precisely the combination of physical exertion, coordination team effort, spatial awareness and a sense of belonging that produce this result.
Of course, other values important for people both old and young can be imparted onto children through participation in team sports, including cooperation, accountability, integrity and commitment.
It should be noted that the study managed to establish a correlation, but not a cause-effect relationship. So, while we can assume that boys who participate in team sports are less likely to be depressed, it is possible that boys who suffer from depression are just less likely to participate in such activities. Even so, the benefits of participation in team sports insofar as character-building, social bonding and exercise make it an attractive option for your child’s extracurricular activity.