Depression: Mental, Emotional and Biological

Mental illness is a condition that remains full of misunderstanding, stigma and mystery. Although the exact cause of many mental illnesses remains unknown, it is becoming clear through research that many of these conditions are caused by a combination of psychological, biological and environmental factors. But the aspect that currently interests me most is the biological. Is depression a symptom that results from chemical or structural changes in the brain and body, as a physical response to the outside world (stress, trauma), a genetic dysfunction?  But like a lot of other physical conditions, the emotional, social consequences of the stigma, the feelings of isolation, and helplessness when you are caught in an illness are often that hardest aspect to face.

Over the years, mental illness has had many unfortunate stigmas.  Moral weakness, self-destructive choices, personal failure, insanity, or lack self control; these are the attitudes that are brought against people who are struggling.  And these attitudes are actively harmful to the people who face them.  If it remains “mental”, how can it be legitimized as a real illness?  How can treatment ever be more than stating “It’s all in your head.  Just get over it.”?

A Physical Condition

What I find important in the dispelling of stigma is the reminder that depression remains a physical condition.  Hormone levels can be shown to be skewed, brain scans can show changes in the structures of certain components of the brain such as the amygdala, pre-frontal cortex and hippocampus.  Depression may be an illness or a symptom but it is still real, it exists and it has biological causes that we may not yet fully understand.  And living with depression creates a host of symptoms in a response the the stress the sufferer feels, regardless of what is causing it.


So how can massage help?  Potentially, massage is just symptom management but I have faith in the body’s ability to heal itself.  Give a person the tools and they have a better chance of overcoming mental illness.

Touch is important.  Nonsexual, nurturing touch is a huge benefit for maintaining a healthy stress response.  A massage provider aims to put a person into parasympathetic mode – where the body relaxes and allows resources to be channeled into healing, growth and stabilizing.  Increases in oxytocin and seratonin and decreases in cortisol and adrenaline create a temporary feeling of well being, of calm and of bonding.  Because depression often comes with difficulty in normal sleep and digestion patterns, massage can help the body recalibrate.

Some recent studies link depression and chronic inflammation.  If this theory proves to have validity, massage becomes a very effective treatment for depressive symptoms.  Manual therapies release chronic tension in muscles and flush out toxins that are the byproduct of cellular metabolism.  It breaks into the positive feedback loop of inflammation=pain=tension=inflammation and so on.  That alone can be a huge benefit for people suffering symptoms of depression.

On June 25th, 2017, Kamloops is taking part in the 5th annual Ride Don’t Hide event for Canadian Mental Health Association.  If you or someone you know if suffering from a mental health issue, this is a great way to raise awareness and funds for the treatment of mental health conditions.  If this is something that interests you, check out the local website or Facebook page.