Depression Hurts; Massage Can Help

worried-girl-413690.jpgDepression is different from just an everyday sort of “bummer.” 

Being sad sometimes is normal; having the ability to grieve one’s losses is healthy. Sadness is a common and easily-identifiable symptom of depression, but the clinical disorder is much more complex than just feeling sad. 

Massage therapy can help clients with Clinical Depression, by helping decrease sense of pain, anxiety, tension, and stress, and by increasing our body’s own natural feel-good chemicals.


How Massage Benefits Clients with Depression:

Reduced physical and mental symptoms

Reduced cortisol levels

Increased serotonin levels

Increased dopamine levels

A decrease in perceived stress

Decreased systolic blood pressure

Facilitates a positive connection to the body

Relief of muscle tightness from stress and anxiety

Relief of symptoms such as headache and constipation


The National Institute of Mental Health’s definition of Depression:

“Depression (major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder.

  • It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working.
  • To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.”

Signs and Symptoms

Depressed mood, such as feeling sad, empty, or tearful; sometimes presents as 

constant irritability

• Significantly reduced interest or feeling no pleasure in all or most activities

• Significant weight loss when not dieting, weight gain, or decrease or increase    in appetite (in  children, failure to gain weight as expected)

• Insomnia or increased desire to sleep

• Either restlessness or slowed behavior that can be observed by others

• Fatigue or loss of energy

• Feelings of worthlessness, or excessive or inappropriate guilt

• Trouble making decisions, or trouble thinking or concentrating

• Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, or a suicide attempt

Depression Comes in Many Forms

Types of Depression:

Persistent depressive disorder (also called dysthymia) is a depressed mood that lasts for at least two years. A person diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder may have episodes of major depression along with periods of less severe symptoms, but symptoms must last for two years to be considered persistent depressive disorder.

Perinatal depression is much more serious than the “baby blues” (relatively mild depressive and anxiety symptoms that typically clear within two weeks after delivery) that many women experience after giving birth. Women with perinatal depression experience full-blown major depression during pregnancy or after delivery (postpartum depression). The feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that accompany perinatal depression may make it difficult for these new mothers to complete daily care activities for themselves and/or for their babies.

Psychotic depression occurs when a person has severe depression plus some form of psychosis, such as having disturbing false fixed beliefs (delusions) or hearing or seeing upsetting things that others cannot hear or see (hallucinations). The psychotic symptoms typically have a depressive “theme,” such as delusions of guilt, poverty, or illness.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is characterized by the onset of depression during the winter months when there is less natural sunlight. This depression generally lifts during spring and summer. Winter depression, typically accompanied by social withdrawal, increased sleep, and weight gain, predictably returns every year in seasonal affective disorder.

Bipolar disorder is different from depression, but it is included in this list because someone with bipolar disorder experiences episodes of extremely low moods that meet the criteria for major depression (called “bipolar depression”). But a person with bipolar disorder also experiences extreme high – euphoric or irritable – moods called “mania” or a less severe form called “hypomania.”

Examples of other types of depressive disorders newly added to the diagnostic classification of DSM-5  include disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (diagnosed in children and adolescents) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).”

Who’s at Risk?

Depression Risk Factors:

Biochemistry: Differences in certain chemicals in the brain may contribute to symptoms of depression.

Genetics: Depression can run in families. For example, if one identical twin has depression, the other has a 70 percent chance of having the illness sometime in life.

Personality: People with low self-esteem, who are easily overwhelmed by stress, or who are generally pessimistic appear to be more likely to experience depression.

Environmental factors: Continuous exposure to violence, neglect, abuse or poverty may make some people more vulnerable to depression.


Our Culture’s First-Line Defense Against Depression: Pharmaceuticals

Antidepressant medications are the second most prescribed class of drugs in the United States.  Upwards of 253 million anti-depressant prescriptions each year, and it is one of the fastest-growing classes of all prescription medications.

Some commonly used pharmaceuticals for Depression treatment:

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs).  These include medicines such as Zoloft, Paxil, Lexapro, and Celexa. They help decrease depression symptoms by limiting the amount of serotonin absorbed, leaving more available to work in the brain.
  • Some prescription drugs, such as Cymbalta, work to increase both serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain.
  • An older class of drugs is the MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors), which inhibits the breakdown of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
  • Drugs such as Wellbutrin are dopamine reuptake blockers.
  • Other drugs, such as Trazadone, work as receptor antagonists.

Non-Drug Allopathic Treatment for Depression:


Depression is most often treated with a combination of medications and psychotherapy, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  Sometimes called talk therapy, CBT can be a useful tool in helping people deal with the symptoms of depression and make lifestyle changes that decrease depression itself. 

According to Web MD, “Psychotherapy helps people with depression:

Understand the behaviors, emotions, and ideas that contribute to his or her depression

Understand and identify the life problems or events — like a major illness, a death in the family, a loss of a job or a divorce — that contribute to their depression and help them understand which aspects of those problems they may be able to solve or improve

Restructure ways of thinking, negative attributes and attitudes someone has about himself, and ways in which faulty thinking may perpetuate depression

Regain a sense of control and pleasure in life

Learn coping techniques and problem-solving skills”

Complementary and Naturopathic Depression Treatments:

  • Exercise
  • Herbal Therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Relaxation Therapy
  • Nutrition and Supplements
  • MASSAGE THERAPY!  Talk to your therapist or doctor, and make massage part of your depression treatment plan. 


Further Reading:

The National Institute of Mental Health: Depression

Mayo Clinic article on Depression

Massage and Depression

Natural ways to fight Depression

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