As archery enthusiasts we know the fun and joy that is found within the discipline of archery.  The comradery with fellow enthusiasts, the focus it takes to learn the art of the bow and the elation you feel when the arrow hits the mark.  For centuries the bow and arrow has been used for wars, hunts, tournaments and sports.  But now it also has the potential to heal.  Clinical studies have shown that several forms of mental health issues such as depression, can be treated in part through activity and mental exercise.  Archery offers an outlet in which these individuals can practice both.

In recent years people who suffer from depression are looking to other avenues of treatment and are shying away from the classic treatments of a stable regimen of antidepressants or electro shock therapy.  Seeking a more holistic, non-drug based and non-invasive way to help them deal with their depression.  One study suggests that exercise and activity can treat mild depression as well as any drug on the market.  Psychotherapy or “talk therapy” has been shown to be as effective in dealing with mild to moderate antidepressant on the market.

Using archery to deal with depression begins even before a single arrow has been nocked.  Coming to meetings and classes exposes the person suffering from depression to other individuals of the same attitude and aptitude; novice and eager to learn.  In most classes, all the students learn to handle the bow together and take their first couple of shots together.  This group dynamic, where students share their struggles and breakthroughs in the art is a form of c therapy.  While it is true that the patient is not lying on the stereotypical couch or talking to Freudian-like doctor, they are still expressing emotions and feelings in a way that is a cathartic release.

The bowman takes their place on the line, hefts their bow, nocks an arrow, picks their target, contracts their back and shoulder muscles to draw the string, sights the target and releases.  Archery is essentially a physical activity, but when a simple shot is broken down, it is actually comprised of a dozen or so fine-tuned actions (double that if you count arrow handling),  The action is repeated dozens, hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of times to produce an archer that shoots accurately and consistently.  Within the breadth of these actions, with some spanning several milliseconds, is an internal dialogue with oneself.  All of which culminates to the release of the arrow.  It is within this dialogue that a person suffering from depression can find a bit of cognitive behavior therapy, whose main focus is to identify and augment dysfunctional thought patterns.

While archery is not a cardio intensive activity, the physical discipline required to start and pursue archery is still high.  For depression sufferers this activity may be exactly what is needed.  Archery does not push your body to breaking, it does not send your adrenaline levels soaring nor does it tax your brain of oxygen or carbohydrates.  Instead a more calm and meditate state is required.  Indeed, the Japanese martial art of Kyudo (way of the bow) insists that a practitioner must first be adept at meditating with a bow in hand before they can even draw the string.  Learning and drilling to connect a calmed and collected mind with fine motor skills is crucial for those dealing with depression.

2 Responses

  1. lou b

    I’m a 44 year old man who is diagnosed with BiPolar II . All my life I have carried this illness with me,for most of my life undiagnosed. When I sought help I was given the option of taking medication,anti depressants,which I took. I soon began thinking more rationally,clearly and quietly. After about 2 years of medication and a good therapist I made a decision. That decision has changed my life. As a boy I was introduced to archery through scouting and I loved it. I have no idea why I stoppr shooting but I put my bow down for about 25 years or so. The decision I made was that I was going to get into archery again. I went to an amazing range in Manchester Connecticut and bought my first recurve. I took lessons and joined and archery club. I found a place to belong. I found a sport and a competitive outlet that doesn’t require me to be an athlete. Literally anyone can participate in archery. I now shoot competitively and find many benefits from participating in archery too numerous to list but the article sums them up. For minor depression this may be an alternative to conventional treatment however I don’t have a mild case of it. I have found that medication,therapy visits about once every three months and archery make a strong prpogram that produces a tremendous cumulative effect for me that eases my symptoms. I also found a place to be someone not just someone in the background.

  2. John Proctor

    I am a 63 year old totally disabled Veteran with major back & other health issues. For several years my heath has declined to a point where I no longer want to go thru the pain to do anything except sit in my lazy boy & watch tv. In college I shot for the University of Florida, was ranked 26 in the nation & qualified for the 1976 Olympic trials. I have 2 sons ages 20 & 22. I can remember the first time my oldest shot his first arrows & at age 4 years old consistently placed arrows in a paper plate. Since 2005 I’ve been unable to shoot with them & we all have forgotten how good it feels to shoot a bow. With a lot of hope I am investing in three used but good compounds & looking forward to spending time with my sons. It is also my prayer archery will help me loose the grip depression has on me. With God’s help I hope to begin living again.