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My Client is in Crisis - World Health Day

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More than 300 million people are now living with depression, with an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015 (World Health Organization). This year, the World Health Organization is focusing World Health Day (April 7, 2017) on depression, in hopes that more people with this illness seek and get help.

Physical activity is often recommended for those dealing with depression or a mental illness, therefore it is important for fitness professionals to recognize when their client is in crisis and understand their role in the situation. Fitness professionals tend to have strong relationships with their clients or participants, and are often considered an imperative support system. How do you know if your client is in crisis? What do you do if your client is in crisis? Who else can help? The tips and information below can help.

Recognizing Risk Factors in our Clients:
Depression is an illness that can affect anyone and is not always obvious. Being conscious and aware of the behaviours below can help recognize risk factors in clients.

  • Lateness and absenteeism
  • Erratic thinking
  • Impulsive behaviour
  • Lower quality output
  • Anxiousness and/or fearlessness
  • Change in mood

Know your Boundaries:
It’s important to understand your role as your client’s personal trainer, fitness instructor, health coach, etc. Mental Health Professionals are experts in their field, and while fitness professionals tend to be a key support person for their clients, we must recognize boundaries and understand roles.


Client in Crisis Flowchart:
The chart below outlines things to consider and ask yourself when you think your client is in crisis. Start with checking yourself, paying close attention, and ensuring the situation is safe before moving forward.


Approach your client with the right mindset through your language, questions, and actions. Having the right mentality in difficult situations is crucial and will benefit both parties.

  • Inclusive, non-judgmental, supportive, non-assumptive

Questions and Actions:
  • “I can see you’re going through something. What’s going on?”
  • “What can I do to help?”
  • “Are you thinking about hurting yourself or anyone else?”
  • “What do you actually want?”
  • “I’m not sure what to do, but I know someone who works with people going through what you're going through. Here’s their name and number.”
  • “I am concerned about you, so I am going to call 911.”

People to have in your network:
Networking as a fitness professional is important and beneficial for many reasons, particularly when it comes to your client or participant who may need other professional support or resources. As a responsible fitness professional, perhaps you have a solid physical health network, which includes chiropractors and physiotherapists. Expanding your network to include mental health professionals, allows you to refer your client to the appropriate professional.

Some important people to have in your network include:

  • Psychologist
  • Psychiatrist
  • Family/Child Counsellor
  • Marriage/relationship counsellor
  • Social worker
  • Life coach

Your client’s health, well-being and performance include their mental health. Understanding how common mental illness is, risk factors to be aware of, knowing your boundaries, asking the right questions, and knowing who else can help, can all benefit your client in some way or another. We invite you to also join the World Health Day conversation using #LetsTalk and help end the stigma surrounding depression and mental illness.

Rod Macdonald and Nathalie Lacombe


  • Canadian Mental Health Association www.cmha.ca
  • Healthy Minds Canada www.healthymindscanada.ca
  • Mental Health Commission of Canada, providers of Mental Health First Aid
  • www.mentalhealthcommission.ca

  • Centre for Addiction and Mental Health www.camh.ca
  • Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse www.ccsa.ca
  • National Network for Mental Health www.nnmh.ca
  • Eating Disorders Foundation of Canada www.edfofcanada.com
  • National Eating Disorder Information Centre www.nedic.ca
  • eMentalHealth.ca
  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)