Massage for Depression and Suicide Prevention

Massage for Depression and Suicide Prevention

 • Up to 15% of people with clinical depression will die through suicide 

• The leading cause of suicide is undiagnosed or untreated depression

 • 1 in every 25 suicide attempts are successful 

• 79% of suicides are men 

• 1 in every 65,000 children aged 10-14 commit suicide every year 

Not everyone with depression will have the same symptoms. The frequency, severity and duration of symptoms will depend on the individual and their particular illness, but massage has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression, which include:-

 • Feelings of hopelessness 

• Feelings of emptiness and persistent sadness 

• Feelings of guilt and worthlessness

 • Irritability 

• Anxiety 

• Fatigue

 • Lack of interest in activities/sex 

• Difficulty decision making 

• Concentration and memory problems

 • Overeating/loss of appetite 

• Insomnia/excessive sleeping 

• Suicidal thoughts/attempts 

• Self harming 

• Persistent aches and pains that don’t ease eg.headaches or digestive issues 

Depression is not just having a bad day – its effects can be devastating and can negatively impact on chronic conditions, eg.asthma, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, as well as causing short term disability and absence from work. 

Massage can help to improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression and is particularly useful in:- 

• Chronic pain patients 

• Terminally ill patients

 • Cancer patients, including children

 • Pregnant women 

• Teenage mums

 • People with tension headaches 

• Psychiatric patients

 • Women with premenstrual disorders 

• People with chronic diseases eg.multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia 

Research has shown that the effects of massage in treating depression and anxiety can reach approximately the same level as psychotherapy. This is because depression has physiological components so many clients who have massage for physical pain, often suffer from depression. There are different types of depression which will respond differently to massage as they manifest in different ways. 


 • Situational/reactive depression – a reaction to particularly stressful life events eg. death(see previous post on massage for grief)

 • Family of origin depression – more psychological in nature due to unresolved issues often from childhood. The body has had a long period of time to sink into a depressive structure, so medication may be required when issues arise due to biochemical changes. Massage can help boost the endorphin release.

 • Moderate depression – longer term than situational depression but arises from no identifiable cause/event. This may be seasonal and requires medication and therapy. Involves biochemical changes. Such clients should be monitored by mental health team when undergoing massage therapy.

 • Severe depression – requires heavy medication and hospitalisation for chemical and psychological therapy. Massage will usually only take place after such treatment and should be done in collaboration with psychotherapist to monitor for relapse/suicidal tendencies. 

• Chronic depression – may be moderate or severe with significant endorphin imbalance and structural changes. Will usually involve medication and therapy. 


The effect of massage on physiological changes from depression is what makes it surpass medication and psychotherapy. When there is structural collapse in a depressed client, the following physiological changes may be involved:-

 • shortened abdominal muscles and tightened diaphragm, pulling the chest downward and forwards. This restricts breathing ability. 

• medial rotation of shoulders and internal rotation of arms which can cause kyphosis(curvature of the spine). This restricts breathing further. 

• this reduced thoracic support, causes the head and neck to drop downwards, distorting the upper body 


 • The aim of massage therapy is to repair the structural collapse as mentioned above in order to improve breathing process. This improved physical support will help the client to feel stronger and more able to deal with psychological issues. This is achieved by:- - releasing the abdominal muscles and diaphragm - working on the chest muscles to improve medial rotation of shoulders - working on the muscles of the anterior shoulders and upper arms to resolve the internal rotation - working on the neck muscles and top of shoulders Once the above is done, any compensatory hyperextension in the legs can be addressed. 

• By improving the breathing, the client will feel more energised so that they can gradually start participating in activities again 

• Massage has been shown to improve endorphin release and inhibit stress inducing hormones