Ep. 4 Caring for the Whole Person: Supporting Clients’ Mental Health

Listen to this episode of The Mindful Fit Pro Podcast, to learn how you can make a bigger impact in the lives of your clients by supporting their mental health.

Transcript of Ep. 4

[Intro: Welcome to the Mindful Fit Pro Podcast where fitness professionals learn how to strengthen not just bodies but minds as well. In this podcast, we chat about all things mindfulness, mental wellness, and the latest in psychological research.]

Hello instructors and personal trainers and all of you fit pros listening.

I am your host Shelly and I’m so happy you’re tuning in to listen to today’s episode.

Today we’re gonna be talking about mental health and how your role as a fitness professional plays into supporting the mental health of your clients.

As fitness professionals you help more than just the bodies that are in front of you. You’re helping the whole person and I doubt anyone’s really questioning what is mental health have to do with physical health. But you might be wondering, “what can I do that will actually make a difference?”

In today’s episode I want to make it really clear why us fit pros should know how to recognize signs when our clients may be facing things like depression or anxiety and when it’s getting to a point where they may need extra help.

I’m going to talk about how to recognize signs of mental health challenges. And I’m also going to discuss the importance of early intervention.

As instructors and personal trainers, our role at its very core is essentially to help other people.

We help people learn how to love movement again, how to believe in their own inner strength, even when they’re doubting their physical capabilities.

We help people run around with their grandkids or carry those heavy grocery bags up the stairs. We help people prepare for their next Mud Run or just comfortable walking down the street without getting winded.

We help people set goals and we’re with them every step of the way as they’re working towards achieving them.

So it can feel like we’re in a corner when we’re presented with challenges that we’re not too sure we’re qualified to help with or when we feel like we’re stepping out of our lane or testing the edge of our scope of practice.

Because after all, we’re not therapists. I mean, maybe you are and that’s great. There’s definitely those of you who are out there who wear those two hats but it’s necessary for us as fitness professionals to know how we can help while still staying within our scope of practice.

You’re already trained to help people with their physical health and people are already looking to you for support and guidance in bettering their overall well-being.

This places you in such a unique position to help support those who might also be struggling with mental health challenges, because for many reasons, people may be hesitant to seek help or there might be barriers present that are preventing them from accessing the help that they need.

Just how many people face mental health challenges? According to recent data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, one in five US adults experienced mental illness and 2020.

In 2021, almost 20% of Americans experienced mental illness, and more than half of those who needed help did not receive treatment.

Now, of course, there’s many different situational and environmental factors that can influence one’s ability to get help, especially professional help.

So finances, maybe lack of insurance, lack of transportation, and even mistrust in the medical healthcare field in general, can all be barriers to seeking help when you’re struggling with your mental health.

And then there’s the symptoms themselves. They can sometimes bias our perceptions. For example, depression can lead to feelings of low self-worth, and as a result, people might not think that they’re deserving of seeking help to begin with.

All of this can influence one’s decision to seek help in the future or for what they’re currently going through.

There’s also considerations of culture, values, your belief systems. These are all going to influence how, when, where you’re seeking help, and who you’re seeking help from.

So you want to make sure that you are well aware of all the resources available within your community. That way, you can help someone who might be facing these barriers to care or at least to be that little spark of hope.

I have a free mental health resource guide for fitness professionals that I’m going to link down below in the show notes in case you’d like to expand your own referral network to find the resources that are available closest to you.

The important thing to remember is help is available. Early intervention is key to help people connect with the support that they need. The sooner we can get them linked to support the better. Dropping out of school, relationships ending, or even self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, could be avoided if we intervene early on.

Unfortunately, research shows that people go an average of 10 years between their initial onset of symptoms and when they get connected with professional help for their mental health challenges. But recovery is possible. That’s one thing I want to make sure to highlight in today’s episode.

[ Break:  You’re listening to the Mindful Fit Pro Podcast and I hope you’re taking a moment to soak it all in. If you’re inspired by today’s episode, check out http://www.mindfulfitpro.com to see additional workshops and courses that I offer. And if today’s content resonated with you, and you think other instructors or personal trainers would benefit from listening too, please share the Mindful Fit Pro Podcast with your friends and team. Now let’s get back to the episode. ]

Mental health challenges can impact one’s behavior, appearance, thoughts and feelings. And these can persist over time and impact one’s ability to function really day to day what are some of the signs that you can look for in a gym setting or studio setting.

Changes in behavior could look like somebody avoiding responsibilities by spending a ton of time in the gym or taking a bunch of classes in the studio, to the point where it’s interfering with other areas of their life. Or it could also look like taking an excessive amount of classes in a row or being very strict about not taking any rest and recovery days.

Other signs could look like changes in energy levels like having way more energy or having way less energy and a client might express to you that they just have no motivation or drive to continue working out anymore. Maybe they don’t see a point to it.

Or maybe they’re just exhausted from other commitments. You might also see changes in appearance, maybe changes in someone’s personal hygiene or sudden changes in their weight.

Changes in thought, can look like difficulty paying attention during conversations. Or maybe they’re telling you that they have this extreme dissatisfaction with how they live all of these could be signs of a mental health challenge.

So often I get a question of “how do you know when it’s time to seek help?”

Well whenever it’s starting to interfere with your day to day functioning and you feel like hobbies that you used to enjoy are just not fun anymore when you stopped hanging out with your friends or maybe withdrawn from family.

If you find yourself having trouble sleeping or changes in your eating habits, feelings, like low self worth, even difficulty concentrating, you might even be thinking in your head like oh, that kind of sounds like it might be depression that we’re dealing with here.

Our job is not to diagnose, but we still can recognize that all of these things happening if our clients going to share this with us.

It may indicate that they’re experiencing a mental health challenge so it’s good kind of door opener or a conversation starter, if you will, to talk to them, ask them questions and find out more about what’s going on. So that if you need to, you can refer them to the best place to seek help.

So that’s why it’s so important as fitness instructors and personal trainers to be skilled not only in recognizing the signs of a mental health challenge but also be skilled in active listening, providing assistance without judgment, and knowing how to navigate the mental health resources that are available within your community.

There’s really three main reasons that I think all fit pros can play a huge, impactful role in supporting their clients mental health.

Number one, you’re already helping to change their lives. So you’re skilled at helping them improve their physical health and you might also be their very first line of support when someone’s looking to improve their mental health as well.

They might be going to the gym to look for a way to manage their stress the president to reach out for their mental health to psychiatrist or look for a counselor, but maybe they’re coming to you as a way to improve their physical health and then ultimately impact their mental health as well.

Your group fitness students, your personal training clients, trust you. And this means that they might be more open to talking to you about their mental health challenges.

Reason number two, everyone’s talking about mental health right now.

Don’t get me wrong. I love that we’re shifting this conversation and shifting the norm so that it’s more common to talk about mental health and it’s not something that is kept in the dark.

And it’s really helping to take away the stigma surrounding mental health by bringing this conversation out into the open. But like I mentioned before, many of these conversations don’t really highlight that recovery is possible.

There’s so many people out there who make it a career out of helping people through mental health challenges.

Sometimes it takes a person to reach in and ask questions and show that they’re noticing a difference in somebody that they care about, rather than waiting for that person who’s struggling to reach out and ask for help, when they might be really intimidated to do so they might get that nobody cares about what they’re going through.

I mean, I can speak from experience with depression. Symptoms of depression themselves kind of make you question like, whether or not you’re even worth seeking help for, or if it’s gonna make that much of a difference if you do talk to a therapist, if it’s even worth trying.

And then number three, you want to help because you care right? As fitness professionals, deep down we are helpers at heart. But maybe you’re not sure what exactly to say.

The important thing here is that you care. And this is going to come across when you’re helping your clients. Your body language, actively listening to them, this can all make a powerful impact and show that you’re there to help without passing any judgment.

So, what can you do? That’s a question you’re probably wondering, “What can I actually do to help?”

You can offer support by showing that you care, that you’re willing to have conversations about mental health, by showing that you recognize what other people are going through notice the differences and changes in their behavior or maybe the thoughts that they’ve been sharing with you. You can empathize with how difficult a time they’re having.

Sometimes you might be perceived as the only person who is willing to listen, which like I mentioned, places you in such a unique position to offer support. You can provide reassurance, spread hope, and highlight the recovery as possible. And if the person is open to it, you can also help them connect with professionals in the area, national resources, maybe different community-based programs.

But how can you do all this competently? Especially if you don’t have any background in psychology?

The good thing is there’s a training kind of like how you get trained in CPR to be a person that can help somebody through a cardiac arrest, you can become a Mental Health First Aider to help people through mental health challenges.

Mental Health First Aid is an international evidence-based program that teaches people how to identify, understand and respond to signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use challenges.

Mental Health First Aiders are trained to assess for risk of crisis, trained to listen nonjudgmentally, and they’re there to provide reassurance and information and to encourage help seeking, whether it’s self-help strategies or going to search for a professional.

By becoming a Mental Health First Aider you’ll get a much more informed view of mental health challenges people are facing today and a really holistic perspective to the treatments that are available and the different types of therapies that one can look into.

If you’re interested in Mental Health First Aid, I encourage you to visit my website mindfulfitpro.com or look in the show notes below to see when we’re offering upcoming courses.

You can be an advocate within your studio a gym and make a real difference in the life of someone who might not be sure where to turn for help.

Thank you for listening to today’s episode of the mindful fit pro podcast. And thank you for all that you do to help strengthen the people that you work with, both physically and mentally. You do a lot as a fit pro and it does not go unnoticed.

Summary & Timestamps

Fitness professionals can play a crucial role in supporting clients with mental health challenges by recognizing signs, actively listening, and providing assistance, ultimately improving overall well-being.

  • 00:01 Fitness professionals should be able to recognize signs of mental health challenges in their clients and understand the importance of early intervention.
  • 01:35 Fitness professionals can play a crucial role in supporting clients with mental health challenges, as many people hesitate to seek help or face barriers to treatment, with a significant number of Americans experiencing mental illness and not receiving treatment. 
  • 03:25 Various factors such as financial constraints, lack of insurance, transportation, and trust in the healthcare system can hinder individuals from seeking professional help for their mental health, and it is important to be aware of available resources to support those facing these barriers.
  • 04:37 Early intervention is crucial in supporting mental health, as it can prevent negative outcomes, and signs to look for in a gym or studio setting include avoiding responsibilities and excessive exercise.
  • 06:22 Recognize signs of client mental health issues such as changes in behavior and low self-worth, and use it as an opportunity to have a conversation and potentially refer them to seek help. 
  • 07:56 Fitness professionals can positively impact their clients’ mental health by recognizing signs, actively listening, and providing assistance, as they can be the first line of support in improving overall well-being. 
  • 👂10:03 Show your clients that you care about their mental health by actively listening, empathizing, offering support, reassurance, and connecting them with professionals or resources.
  • 📚11:33 Become a mental health first aider through an evidence-based program to identify and respond to mental health challenges, and visit mindfulfitpro.com for courses and resources to make a difference in someone’s life.

Fitness instructors and personal trainers can have a significant impact on their clients’ mental health as the first line of support when trained to recognize and respond to mental health challenges.

Key points in this episode:

💪 Our role as fitness professionals goes beyond physical health; we also help our clients’ work on their mental health.

🚦Early intervention is key in addressing mental health challenges, which is why it’s so important fitness professionals know how to recognize the signs when someone might need additional support and have an action plan for when to refer out.

🌍 Culture, values, finances, trust in the healthcare system, stigma, and even geographic location can all play a significant role in determining how, when, and where individuals seek help for their mental health. Our referral list and suggestions for where to seek help should include a range of both self-help and professional resources in mental healthcare.

Resources mentioned in this episode:


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. PEP21-07-01-003, NSDUH Series H-56). Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/

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Ep. 4 Caring for the Whole Person: Supporting Client Mental Health The Mindful Fit Pro Podcast

In this episode, Shelly shares how your role as a fitness professional goes beyond supporting physical health and the importance of mental health awareness and education. 1 in 5 individuals experience a mental illness (SAMHSA, 2021), so why isn't it as common for fitness professionals to be certified in Mental Health First Aid as they are CPR? Listen to this episode of The Mindful Fit Pro Podcast, to learn how you can make a bigger impact in the lives of your clients by supporting their mental health. RESOURCES: Download your own copy of the ✨ FREE ✨ Mental Health Resource Guide for Fitness Professionals here: https://tinyurl.com/3wcddsfb Check out upcoming Mental Health First Aid training offered by The Mindful Fit Pro LLC: http://www.mindfulfitpro.com/mental-health-first-aid Learn more about the international evidence-based program Mental Health First Aid: http://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org REFERENCES: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. PEP21-07-01-003, NSDUH Series H-56). Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/ — Support this podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/mindfulfitpro/support
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