The following is a summary of the “A randomized controlled trial of surf and hike therapy for U.S. active duty service members with major depressive disorder,” published in the February 2022 issue of Psychiatry by Walter, et al.
Among U.S. service members, major depressive disorder (MDD) ranks as the most common mental health issue. Activity-based therapies, especially those that take place in natural settings, have been found to be useful in treating depression symptoms, complementing evidence-based treatments. Here, researchers investigated the efficacy of two different forms of activity-based intervention for treating MDD in a sample of 96 active-duty service members: Surf Therapy and Hike Therapy. Participants were assigned at random to either a Surf or Hiking Therapy group for a duration of 6 weeks. Pre- and post-program as well as 3-month follow-up assessments were conducted using clinician- and self-report measures. Before and after each outing, participants filled out a short sadness and anxiety survey.
The results of a multilevel model revealed a significant (ps< .001) evolution in the continuous outcomes of depression across time. Although service members who participated in Hike Therapy had higher average depression scores than those who participated in Surf Therapy, the rate at which their symptoms improved was not noticeably different. At post-program, there were no significant differences between groups in terms of MDD diagnostic status (P =.401), however at the 3-month follow-up, participants in Surf Therapy were more likely to remit from MDD than those in Hike Therapy (P =.015).
Military personnel made up the sample, hence the findings may not be applicable to the wider public. Results should be taken with the knowledge that the vast majority of study participants also received some form of psychotherapy or pharmacotherapy at the same time. It would suggest that both Surf and Hike Treatments are useful supplementary treatments for MDD in the military. The efficacy of these treatments in isolation must be studied.