A pilot study by a Griffith University sociologist has found that women who engage in leisure time feel better about themselves and are more likely to beat depression.

As we approach Mental Health Week (October 8-14), Dr Simone Fullagar said around one million people in Australia currently live with depression.

“Depression is predicted to be the second greatest global health problem by 2020, with women identified as twice as likely as men to experience it,” she said.

Dr Fullagar’s qualitative study looked at the experiences of 48 women – aged 20 to 66 – who had successfully recovered from depression and what helped to improve their emotional wellbeing.

Dr Fullagar said because society commonly ascribed depression to women’s chemical imbalance or their emotional make up, health and medical research tended to presume that most women “spontaneously” recovered through anti-depressants and therapy.

“But our interviews showed that women were actively pursuing a whole range of ‘non-professional’ practices centred on leisure that helped in their recovery process,” Dr Fullagar said.

“Their stories showed that leisure time offered an outlet from the emotional demands of caring for others and working, and improved their sense of emotional wellbeing.

“The type of activity was not as important as the act of choosing to do something enjoyable through which they could value themselves.”

Some of the activities cited as beneficial were gardening, reading, sport, walking, yoga, writing, socialising and community theatre.

Dr Fullagar said a deeper understanding of the beneficial effects of leisure in fighting depression could have a significant impact on the way depression is managed in Australia.

“There are significant economic as well as social implications, given that public spending focuses primarily on medical options for a condition that is the leading cause of non-fatal illness among women in Australia,” Dr Fullagar said.

“We need to ensure funding is also directed to a range of other options, such as low-cost community and leisure services, women’s health centres and childcare options.”

Dr Simone Fullagar can be contacted on 0412 182 981 for interview.