Cultural Cure for Warding Off Depression

January 4, 2019


There are approximately 300 million people worldwide dealing with depression. It can impact every area of your life, not just your mood, and can occur at any age.

While there are many avenues to treat depression, from talk therapy and medication to Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, there are also many causes of depression. While it’s generally cause by a chemical imbalance of the brain, for some it’s seasonal due to lack of sunlight, or circumstantial from stressful life events. It turns out, for some, it may be preventable.

British Study Results

A recent study in the UK has found that regularly attending cultural events, from movies to theater events, can help fight depression as you age.

people taking notes in large lecture hall

The new research suggests the more often you attend these events the less depressed you will be. The study found that men and women over the age of 50 can reduce their risk of depression by 32 percent by attending cultural activities every few months. The risks drops to 48 percent if they went to events at least once month.

people sitting in art gallery

The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) was a decade long tracking-analysis of 2,000 men and women over 50 year old that measured depression risk against cultural engagement, which includes activities like attending plays, concerts, movies, and art exhibits.

Why does culture reduce depression?

There are many positive side effects of attending cultural events that help to reduce risk of depression:

  • It requires getting out of the house, which reduce sedentary behavior and promotes gentle physical activity.
  • It provides opportunity for social engagement which in turn reduces loneliness and social isolation.
  • Any engagement with the arts reduces stress. It’s correlated to lower stress hormones like cortisol and less inflamation, both of which are associated with depression
  • Cultural engagement can increase the release of the “feel good” neurotransmitter, dopamine.
  • Stimulates thinking, helping to reduce cognitive decline.
  • Enjoying the arts evokes positive emotions and feelings, from the art itself to the social engagement.

All of these benefits enhance mental health and well-being. As a whole these benefits not only reduce the risk of depression, they can also reduce the chance of chronic pain, dementia, and premature death.

ELSA Methods

Daisy Fancourt of University College London, the study's lead author, advises, “In the same way we have a 'five-a-day' [recommendation] for fruit and vegetable consumption, regular engagement in arts and cultural activities could be planned into our lives to support healthy aging.”

"...arts and cultural activities could be planned into our lives to support healthy aging.”

Along with her colleague Urszula Tymoszuk, Fancort published their findings online with British Journal of Psychiatry.

The ELSA study utilized surveys and interviews to measure both depression occurrences and the frequency with which participants engaged with concerts, art galleries/ museums, the opera, movies, and theater.

While the study cannot claim a cause and effect link, the association seen was consistent regardless of the participants gender, age, education, income, health, relationships with family and friends, participation in non-arts social activities, and exercise habits. None of the participants had depression at the start of the 10 year study.

The takeaway is if you enjoy the arts, keep at it, but if you think you may not it’s worth keeping an open mind and trying it out as you may be surprised with the positive impact it has on your life.

If you do find yourself dealing with depression, in addition to trying to add more cultural to your life, be sure to seek treatment for support.

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