Richard Dopp, M.D.
“My goal is to teach youth, parents, and families that there are things they can do themselves to treat their depression and prevent future depressive episodes.”
In his work as a child and adolescent psychiatrist, Richard Dopp incorporates a focus on both sleep and physical activity in the treatment strategies he offers to young people with depression. Adequate sleep is essential for restoring the body and mind, such that encouraging and reinforcing good sleep habits can help alleviate depression symptoms. Similarly, Dopp often “prescribes” exercise for his young patients with depression, knowing that staying active can offer great benefits for both physical health and mental wellness.
By triggering changes in the brain, exercise can help alleviate stress and improve mood, and it’s a wellness strategy that young people and adults alike can adopt and maintain in a very self-empowering way, Dopp says. “I think there are a lot of adolescents with depression who are choosing not to seek treatment for a variety of reasons, whether it is concern for potential side effects, time commitment, or other things,” he says, and for Dopp, being able to offer exercise as a component of a teen’s treatment for depression can be especially gratifying.
His understanding of the potentially life-changing influence of physical activity comes both from his research and personal experience – as an undergraduate at U-M, Dopp was a four-time varsity letter winner in gymnastics and captained the men’s team, and he was also heavily influenced by the example of his mother, who worked as an adaptive physical education teacher.
Dopp is involved in several studies investigating the role of exercise and sleep on depression in teens. One study measures electrical activity in the brain to look for correlations between sleep and mood and also examines the effect of sleep disruptions on sleep quality. Another study is evaluating an exercise treatment intervention intended to help adolescents with depression increase their level of physical activity and comparing it to standard depression treatments.
“Through our work examining exercise as treatment for depression, we’re hoping to teach youth, parents, and families that there are things they can do themselves to treat their depression and prevent future depressive episodes,” Dopp says. In the future, Dopp hopes to be able to establish the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of exercise interventions in both clinical and community settings for young people with depression.
Dopp finds great satisfaction in working with adolescents and their parents, both as patients and as research partners, and he finds that his young study volunteers provide unique perspectives on their experiences. “Some have told us that they appreciate the time and interest that the research faculty spends in getting to know them and what their challenges are. Some enjoy the process of participating in research and learning aspects of research methodology. Others are happy to contribute to science and the greater good in that way. And some are just hoping to feel better.”
He notes that while some teen participants are initially motivated by monetary incentives, their interest typically evolves into something deeper. “Some like the idea of trying something different and being involved of some cutting-edge work. Others are getting benefits from research in terms of what they learn about depression as a whole, and learning life strategies that they can use – for over the course of the research study and beyond.”
Ultimately, Dopp hopes that his teen volunteers are enriched by their participation and come away from their experience with a real sense of purpose and an understanding that their efforts are valued. “Depression for teens can really be impairing for an adolescent, interfering with functioning at home, at school, and with their friends. Those who selflessly contribute their time and participation are helping us give others better treatment recommendations, and we hope they will also benefit as individuals in meaningful ways.”