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Open water swimming as a treatment for major depressive disorder
  1. Christoffer van Tulleken1,
  2. Michael Tipton2,
  3. Heather Massey2,
  4. C Mark Harper3,4
  1. 1 Division of Infection and Immunity, University College London, London, UK
  2. 2 Extreme Environments Laboratory, Department of Sport and Exercise Science, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, UK
  3. 3 Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton, UK
  4. 4 Brighton and Sussex Medical School, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Heather Massey, heather.massey{at}


A 24-year-old woman with symptoms of major depressive disorder and anxiety had been treated for the condition since the age of 17. Symptoms were resistant to fluoxetine and then citalopram. Following the birth of her daughter, she wanted to be medication-free and symptom-free. A programme of weekly open (cold) water swimming was trialled. This led to an immediate improvement in mood following each swim and a sustained and gradual reduction in symptoms of depression, and consequently a reduction in, and then cessation of, medication. On follow-up a year later, she remains medication-free.

  • mood disorders (including depression)
  • sports and exercise medicine

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  • Contributors CvT was responsible for the clinical management of the patient and coauthored the manuscript. MH and MT developed the idea and commented on drafts of the paper and approved the final version of the paper. HM was responsible for patient support, follow-up and drafting the paper.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.