Clients with depression symptoms: what to look out for and what you can do

Depression and massage - Sage Institute of massageDepression. It’s a topic that seems to be everywhere. From government campaigns and initiatives to the constant media attention on celebrities and public figures ‘coming out’ with depression, it appears that the condition is now finally acknowledged by the mainstream.

Three million Australians are living with depression or anxiety, according to Beyond Blue. Chances are, you or a close friend or relative has come in contact with it yourself. And as a massage therapist, it’s likely that you will be massaging individuals suffering depression and displaying depression symptoms.

Massage therapists are not qualified psychologists or doctors, so it is not your position to diagnose mental illness, and neither is it your place to treat it. However, being aware of the tell-tale signs of depression will help you understand your client’s behaviour and help you to address their needs.

Symptoms of depression

Physical symptoms of depression include:
Insomnia, change of appetite, significant weight gain or loss, fatigue, headaches and muscle pain, illness or feeling ‘run down’.

Mental symptoms of depression include:
Irritability, frustration, sadness, lack of confidence, indecision, feeling overwhelmed, disappointed and miserable.

Behavioural symptoms of depression include:
Social withdrawal, an inability to concentrate, an inability to complete regular tasks at work or home, giving up on pleasurable activities and relying on drugs and alcohol.

Thought processes of the depressed can include:

Worthlessness, feelings of failure and self-blame, thinking that life is not worth living and that nothing good ever happens.

Identifying (possible) depression in your massage clients

There are certain red flags present when individuals suffer from depression. Here are a few tips to help spot depression symptoms.

In your initial patient questionnaire, include questions about any mental or physical illness and ask if they would like to disclose particular medications. Remember, though, it’s not your job to diagnose or treat depression specifically, so you will have to go with what the patient has volunteered.

Observe the client’s behaviour. If they find it hard to keep appointments or appear flummoxed by payment or organising future sessions, they may be feeling stressed or suffering the all too common brain fog of depression.

If the client is after “stress relief” or “relaxation massage”, if appropriate, you may ask if they have a particular issue going on in their life that is prompting this. But, if you sense that the client does not wish to share details, acknowledge this and move on without prying.

Repeatedly crying on the massage table, talking about a serious life event such as a recent divorce or death of a loved one are also signs that something may be wrong. Depression symptoms or related illnesses such as obesity, fibromyalgia or chronic pain may also be a red flag.

How to treat a massage patient that may be depressed

Depression can make someone feel lonely. Massage is a wonderful way of feeling a connection with another person, making it an excellent tool for helping someone with depression. Massage gives them time to relax and let go, focusing on the breath and the masseur’s touch, giving the brain a chance to ‘reboot’.

It’s unlikely that strong massage will be appropriate at this time. While depressed, the nervous system is sensitised, aches and pains are more noticeable than usual, and the patient may feel ‘worked over’ and in need of a break. The moderate pressure of Swedish massage may be a good option. Do not do anything that will add to the stress or pain. Make the massage an enjoyable experience, rather than “another thing” to endure.

Remember your place – but help is important

Link between massage and depressionAgain, you are a massage therapist and not a psychotherapist. It’s okay to listen to certain troubles or worries, but it’s essential that you make a judgement call on what is and isn’t appropriate professional behaviour. If you feel that the client needs professional help, refer them to an appropriate helpline, therapist or doctor.

Sage Institute of Massage – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan is the Academic Director at Sage Institute of Education. She oversees learning processes, teaching outcomes, resources and course development. A passionate advocate for bettering standards of training in Australia, she is currently writing her PhD thesis on defining quality training in the Australian vocational education sector.
Vicki Tuchtan

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