Is Acupuncture Effective for Depression? If so, how?
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have utilized acupuncture to treat various medical issues for more than 3,000 years. With more than 10 million acupuncture sessions performed each year, acupuncture has grown in popularity in North America in recent decades.
Acupuncture is even being used to treat mental health disorders, such as depression, by some practitioners. Acupuncture is an effective complementary treatment for those who have not improved with traditional treatment methods. Here’s all you need to know about acupuncture as a treatment for depression.
Signs of Depression
Depression is more than finding oneself in a bad mood or feeling incredibly sad. Whereas these are usually temporarily felt emotions, depression can last for an extended time.
Many people may be genetically predisposed to suffering from depression, while for others, it can occur unexpectedly or for no apparent reason.
Physical Signs of Depression
The first sign that a person may be suffering from depression is when they deviate from their usual routines. For example:
Physically withdrawing from family, friends, and society in general
A fluctuation in their weight – either a loss or gain
Flu-like symptoms – headaches, body aches, and cramps
Psychological Signs of Depression
A person suffering from depression will experience an array of emotions such as deep sadness, fear, confusion, anguish, and hopelessness. These emotions can last for many days. These inward emotions will present themselves as follows:
Previously enjoyed activities will no longer spark any enthusiasm
A protracted feeling of deep sadness
Frequent and unprovoked tearfulness, irritability, or anger
A withdrawal from social events for no discernable reason
An inability to perform mundane tasks
Feeling like a failure for minor mistakes
The above list of symptoms is by no means comprehensive, and other signs might include:
A loss of memory and focus resulting in a decrease in cognitive ability.
To escape their deep sadness and hopelessness, a person with depression may turn to drugs or alcohol.
Self-harm, physical attacks, or dangerous activities are ways individuals seek to release themselves from the bonds of depression.
A panic attack may result from the memory of an event or anxiety.
Depression – Causes
Having established the signs of depression and with a view that acupuncture is a potentially effective treatment, it is noteworthy to understand the Chinese theories on the causes of depression.
The Chinese believe in ‘qi’ (pronounced ‘chi’) which is the energy flow within the human body. In a depressed person, the qi is blocked or out of balance. The diagnosis differs from western medicine that attributes depression to a hormonal or chemical imbalance. However, the eastern and western medicine agree on the primary causes and triggers of depression, namely;
An excessive workload
A lack of physical exercise
A lack of sleep
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) takes a holistic view of the human body. The energy that flows from organ to organ creates a pattern. When the qi in the liver is blocked or flows too fast through the spleen, the practitioner can establish a break in the pattern and diagnose depression, anger, and digestive problems. TCM will holistically address an imbalance in qi, whereas western medicine will address each organ individually with different specialists prescribing specific medication.
The qi flows along meridians that connect our internal organs. TCM can establish the smooth, excessive, or deficient flow of this energy. Depression is evident when establishing a block in the energy flow of the liver, spleen, kidney, or heart. Each organ has a unique function to keep the body healthy; therefore, symptoms may arise when all fail to perform.
Acupuncture: What is it?
Acupuncture is an ancient practice passed on by traditional Chinese healers. Thin needles inserted into specific body points connect the affected organs, stimulating and clearing the energy meridians.
Chinese medicine finds the mind and the body acting in unison, and as such, certain emotions directly impact the body and vice versa. Each organ within the body is affected by a specific emotion.
For example, the liver corresponds to the emotion of anger – a symptom of depression. Anger affects the liver, and likewise, liver problems result in heightened anger in a person. An acupuncturist will insert a fine needle in the foot between the big toe and the first digit toe to release congested qi in the liver.
Does Acupuncture Work as a Treatment for Depression?
Acupuncture has become a treatment more widely used as a treatment for aches and pains. Western medicine has adopted it as a complementary care option, having seen its benefits.
Research study results have been promising, and increasingly, acupuncture features as part of treatment programs for depression.
While western medicine is skeptical of acupuncture because it is not a science-based practice, it is clear that strategically placed needles release endorphins into the body. Endorphins are a natural painkiller, and increased quantities provide the body and brain with a natural boost.
Side Effects of Acupuncture
Acupuncture, carried out by a trained practitioner, is a safe treatment and rarely causes severe side effects. There may be a mild reaction such as:
Mild skin irritation (itching, bleeding, bruising) due to an allergic reaction to the needles
Tiredness or drowsiness
Improper acupuncture techniques carried out by untrained or uncertified practitioners could result in more severe side effects.
It is always advisable to check the credentials of the practitioner first.
Blended Treatment for Depression
Acupuncture is a treatment that can offer relief from depression with immediate effect without pharmaceutical products.
In cases of mild depression, feeling better has a ripple effect that may motivate a person to make changes in their lifestyle, ultimately lifting the depression in the long term.
More severe cases of depression would benefit from a blend of acupuncture and other therapies and medications.
Research has shown that treatment programs that offer acupuncture better manage their symptoms in the long term.