Pickleball helps patients’ mental health

By The Health News Team | January 11, 2024
Certified therapeutic recreational therapists at Sharp Grossmont

(L to R) Alyssa Dorn, Stephanie Martinez, Whitney Hall, Manny Perez, Ayaka Nishitani; all Certified Therapeutic Recreational Specialists at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

A mix of pingpong, tennis and badminton, pickleball has gained popularity in the U.S. with around 8.9 million players picking up a racket in 2022. The sport, played with paddles and a plastic ball with holes on a badminton-sized court with a slightly modified tennis net, offers a variety of benefits — some beyond improved physical health.

In the summer of 2023, Sharp Grossmont Hospital for Behavioral Health underwent a remodel of its facilities, and part of that remodel included adding a pickleball court. For patients, the trending sport is a way to have fun while also improving their mental health.

Pickleball as therapy

Pickleball sessions are offered to behavioral health inpatients typically three to four times a week. During the games, patients learn — and are encouraged — to communicate, keep and sustain focus, and build connection and cohesiveness with one another. There are also physical benefits, such as hand-eye coordination, gradually improved endurance and flexibility, and the overall advantages of exercising.

Luis "Manny" Perez, a recreational therapist at Sharp Grossmont, thinks the allure of pickleball is that it is a sport people of all ages — young and old — can play. It's inclusive to people of varying skill sets and abilities. He’s pleased about the addition of the new pickleball court at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

“Lots of patients heard of pickleball and know about it, but have never had the opportunity to try it,” Perez says. “Grossmont's Behavioral Health Unit has been a safe space to explore and learn the sport.”

Welcome benefits of sports and the arts

Perez is part of a team of recreational therapists who use sports, exercise, music and the arts to help behavioral health patients with anger management, coping skills, stress management, life skills and time management. For pickleball in particular, he says he has seen positive changes in patients diagnosed with depression or other mood disorders.

“Socialization, physical and emotional health, and cognition are all addressed when playing pickleball,” says Perez. “The patients who least wanted to participate, when encouraged and challenged, caught the pickleball fever. Our patients with depression find themselves more motivated, happier and energized after playing.”

According to Perez, the sport is a fun way of learning perseverance, frustration tolerance, socialization and focus along with many other benefits. It also allows participants to get in some good physical activity.

"When patients participate, they find that it's easier to press through their troubling thoughts and emotions while also being encouraged and strengthened to continue working through their adversities," he says.

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