Adrenaline-boosting experiences to treat or alleviate depression symptoms
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Povilas SDec 07, 2022
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Extreme, frightening and/or exciting experiences like sky diving, bungee jumping, rollercoaster rides, zip lining, etc. "prescribed" to people with various forms of depression to improve their condition.
Adrenaline plays an important role in both the pathophysiology and treatment of depression. Many antidepressants work by increasing adrenaline levels in the brain . Even though intense experiences create a so-called adrenaline rush which is rather short-lived and not a constant increase in adrenaline levels, they are a natural approach to boosting adrenaline.
During the adrenaline rush a person usually experiences increased energy and motivation, this is what people suffering from depression constantly lack and even a short experience of an improved condition might give a psychological push with lasting positive effects.
Extreme experiences are relatively harmless health-wise (compared to other means that might give a neurochemical boost like alcohol and drugs to which depressed people often turn) they are abundantly available and the only limitation for engaging in safe extreme experiences often might be a lack of finances which can be solved by allowances/governmental funding.
Intentional self-injury is a common phenomenon among people experiencing depressive symptoms. A psychological explanation for this is that it gives them temporary relief from negative emotions, a sort of grounding experience, feeling alive due to the ability to experience pain, something intense rather than numbed feelings. But the adrenaline release due to injury might very well contribute to this. Extreme experiences causing fear and excitement without physical injury seem like a better alternative.
How it works:
People who are not severely depressed and still have the motivation to seek means to alleviate their condition could try this themselves and see if and how well it works. But since the main issue with depression is a lack of motivation and ability to see purpose in doing just about anything, especially if it takes time and repeated effort (if they were to do it regularly), I feel that this would work best as a prescribed treatment.
Judging from a web search, there is a lack of studies investigating the positive influence of extreme activities on depression, and a few tries to apply this as a practical treatment. Those cases also don't seem to focus on adrenaline-boosting as a major helping factor.
Therefore the initial approach here would be experimental. The adrenaline-boosting activities could be prescribed regularly as an experimental treatment and the condition of patients observed over longer periods of time. Biochemical analysis to determine levels of adrenaline and other contributing hormones/neurotransmitters in the involved patients could also be performed during the course of treatment.
Imagine a sort of therapeutic amusement park camp where people suffering from depression and potentially other mental illnesses go to, live for some time, engage in adrenaline-boosting activities daily and slowly statistical and scientific conclusions are drawn. If proven effective, the therapeutic amusement park keeps functioning and more of those get established.
For the time being, if someone having a possibility would get a severely depressed person out of bed, carry them to a racing car, buckle them up and drive around at high speed with sharp turns performed by a professional driver, I can already see their eyes opening up a bit.
I thought it was exciting, so I roamed the Internet to check if it could work. I found an old research article from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine that assessed the efficiency of two distinct classes of antidepressives:
four norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors which work by increasing the synaptic activity of adrenaline in the brain
four selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors which elicit their effects by increasing the activity of serotonin in the brain (Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa)
It was interesting that all medications were beneficial for animal models which were able to produce norepinephrine. However, when animal models couldn't produce norepinephrine, only citalopram worked. That meant that although the second group of inhibitors relied on serotonin metabolism, most of the medications were dependent on epinephrine. In other words, if there is no norepinephrine, the molecule from which the epinephrine (adrenaline) is made, the antidepressants do not work. If not to completely treat depression with adrenaline rush from amusement parks, there is a high chance that they would enhance the results of medication-based therapy.
Things to be careful about
Direct relationship needs to yet be determined
Although norepinephrine is needed for antidepressants to work, the same should be showed for epinephrine, too.
More factors involved
We need to have in mind that many other molecules play important roles in development and experience of depression.
Long term effects of the adrenaline rush
Is there a possibility for the patients to experience even worse symptoms of depression after consequent adrenaline rush events that boost adrenaline? What if they feel awesome while in the amusement park, but feel significantly worse than before when back home?
I am concerned that roller-coasters and similar attractions that boost adrenaline could end up being very energy-exhausting and thus unwanted by the patients experiencing depression. The problem is how to easily get them there if they have no will to live.
I like the idea as a whole but particularly the part of an adrenaline park. With the park being open to non-depressed people too as everyone could also enjoy the benefits of an adrenaline boost. Make it a weekend retreat maybe, in a way people do silent-retreats now.
Obviously, theme parks exist, but besides rollercoaster rides, there should be other forms of adrenaline-inducing activities grouped as rides aren't for everyone due to age, ableness, body type, or preferences.
For instance, you get a stamp for every activity you do, and you can't leave the park if you don't get at least three.
Like encounters with creepy insects or spiders.
Having a haunted house there could also do the trick.
Some social interactions could achieve an adrenaline shock. Like having an auditorium where you have to do some public speaking, karaoke, or stand-up comedy.
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