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Natural Awakenings Jacksonville-St. Augustine AND Greater Daytona Beach

Depression and Taoist Tai Chi

Nov 30, 2023 09:31AM ● By Gara Roberts
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States, affecting nearly one in every 12 adults, according to the National Center of Health statistics. This condition can strike anyone, regardless of age, background or previous accomplishments, and affects twice as many women as men. It occurs in children and adolescents, but most commonly begins in adulthood. Depression among our senior citizens has been identified as a major public health problem by the National Institute of Mental Health because more than 6 million Americans suffer the effects of this often overlooked condition late in life.

Depression is more than just feeling blue. It can impact major aspects of life, including energy, appetite, sleep, and interest in work, hobbies and relationships. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry cites symptoms such as feelings of sadness or hopelessness, loss of motivation or interest, loss of appetite and a lack of a sense of self-worth as indicators of depression. Other problems such as insomnia or oversleeping, weight gain or loss, irritability over trivial concerns, forgetfulness or difficulty concentrating can also indicate depression. Even chronic physical complaints such as headaches, digestive disorders or other undiagnosed aches and pains can be caused by depression.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Ben Martin, Psy.D., notes that people with a family history of mental illness are at an increased risk. Many medical conditions can cause major depression, along with the medications prescribed to cure or manage them. Women, the elderly and those living at a low socioeconomic status are at a higher risk for developing depression. Feelings of isolation and low self-esteem can also contribute to the development of this medical illness. Major life changes such as the loss of friends and loved ones, retirement or chronic pain or illness may trigger feelings of depression.

Many seniors assume that depression is simply a part of aging, and the symptoms of depression among the elderly can often be disguised. They may report low motivation, a lack of energy or physical problems like arthritis or headaches. Sleep disturbances, memory problems and slowed movement or speech can all be indications of this mood disorder.

Growing from the ancient Chinese tradition which believes that true health comes when body, mind and spirit work together in harmony, the Taoist Tai Chi arts can be an effective remedy for those suffering from depression, according to a study performed at Massachusetts General Hospital and documented in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. For those patients in the study that were enrolled in a tai chi intervention, researchers noted an improved treatment rate and a better remission rate.

Taking a tai chi class can decrease feelings of isolation and help build connections with others. Learning a new skill can improve feelings of self-worth, maintain brain health and prevent mental decline. Exercise can be a powerful depression treatment as well, and leads to mood improvement. It does not have to be a rigorous workout to achieve benefit. Tai chi puts minimal stress on muscles and joints, and is safe for all ages and fitness levels. More than just physical training, the Taoist Tai Chi Society provides an atmosphere of compassion and inclusion.

Tai chi, known as a moving meditation, is a series of gentle internal movements that are balanced throughout the body and have a calming effect on the mind. In 2016, a study was conducted by the Taoist Tai Chi Society of more than 6,000 participants. In excess of 58 percent of those surveyed found their overall mood had improved as a result of the practice of tai chi, and the final report contained numerous positive comments such as decreased number of doctors visits and need for medications for depression, increased resiliency and focus and higher sleep quality as well as a more positive outlook on life.

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Gara Roberts is a retired teaching assistant from Duval County Public Schools and a student of Taoist Tai Chi.