Women, 'madness' and exercise

Journal article


Hardes, J. 2018. Women, 'madness' and exercise. Medical Humanities. https://doi.org/10.1136/medhum-2017-011379
AuthorsHardes, J.
Abstract

The positive relationship between exercise and mental health is often taken for granted in today’s society, despite the lack of academic literature evidencing this symbiosis. Gender is considered a significant determinant in a number of mental health diagnoses. Indeed, women are considered twice as likely as men to experience the most pervasive mental health condition, depression. Exercise for women’s mental health is promoted through various macro-level charity, as well as micro-level, campaigns that influence government health-care policy and National Health Service guidelines. Indeed, ‘exercise prescriptions’ in the treatment of depression is not uncommon. Yet, this link between exercise as a treatment for women’s mental health has not always been so pervasive. In fact, an examination of asylum reports and medical journals from the late-nineteenth century highlights a significant shift in attitude towards the role of exercise in the treatment of women’s emotional states and mental health.

This paper specifically examines how this treatment of women’s mental health through exercise has moved from what might be regarded as a focus on exercise as a ‘cause’ of women’s mental ailments to exercise promoted as a ‘cure’. Unpacking the changing medical attitudes towards exercise for women in line with larger socio-political and historic contexts reveals that while this shift toward exercise promotion might prima facie appear as a less essentialist view of women and their mental and physical states, it inevitably remains tied to larger policy and governance agendas. New modes of exercise ‘treatment’ for women’s mental health are not politically neutral and, thus, what appear to emerge as forms of liberation
are, in actuality, subtler forms of regulation

Year2018
JournalMedical Humanities
PublisherBMJ Publishing Group
ISSN1468-215X
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1136/medhum-2017-011379
Publication dates
Online21 Mar 2018
Publication process dates
Deposited16 Feb 2018
Accepted14 Feb 2018
Accepted author manuscript
Output statusPublished
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https://repository.canterbury.ac.uk/item/888v7/women-madness-and-exercise

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