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Depression and Acupuncture

World Mental Health Day on 10th October is an initiative run by the World Federation for Mental Health for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy. Mental health can cover a large spectrum of conditions, this month we take a look at how acupuncture can help with depression.

What is depression? We all go through short periods of time where we feel down and fed up. Put simplistically depression is more than just a few days of feeling fed up or unhappy. When you’re depressed you can remain persistently sad for weeks or months. It’s not something to be trivialised as depression is as much of an illness as any other medical problem. It has real symptoms and is not just a case of snapping out of it or pulling yourself together. What are the symptoms? Depression can affect people in a number of different ways and there is a huge variety of symptoms. These can range from lasting feelings of sadness and hopelessness, to losing interest in the things you used to enjoy and feeling very tearful.

Many people with depression also have symptoms of anxiety. There can also be physical symptoms too:

  • feeling constantly tired,

  • sleeping badly,

  • having no appetite or sex drive,

  • complaining of various aches and pains.

The severity of the symptoms can vary. At its mildest, you may simply feel persistently low in spirit, while at its most severe depression can make you feel suicidal and that life is no longer worth living. Who suffers with depression? Depression is a common mental health problem that affects people of all genders, ages, and backgrounds. About two thirds of adults will at some time experience depression severe enough to interfere with their normal activities. Sometimes there is a trigger for depression; life-changing events, such as bereavement, losing your job or even having a baby, can bring it on. Women are more likely to suffer partly due to hormonal changes occurring pre-menstrually, at menopause, during pregnancy or after childbirth. It can also be seen in people who have long term chronic health conditions and or those who suffer with chronic pain. People with a family history of depression are also more likely to experience it themselves but you can also become depressed for no obvious reason.

How can acupuncture help with depression? Traditional Chinese acupuncture can be used alongside conventional medical approaches. Acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neuro-chemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body's homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being. Chinese medicine was very clear about the interaction of body mind and spirit. Depression is a complex problem often with each individual person having their own individual bucket list of both physical and emotional symptoms.

Due to the flexible nature of Chinese medicine it can often make sense of this and offer treatment possibilities as a whole, rather than requiring a tablet for x, another tablet for y, and perhaps counselling and psychotherapy. Studies indicate that acupuncture can have a specific positive effect on depression by altering the brain's mood chemistry, increasing production of serotonin and endorphins (chemicals in the brain that help encourage the feelings of wellbeing. Acupuncture may also benefit depression by acting through other neurochemical pathways, including those involving dopamine noradrenaline, cortisol and neuropeptide Y, Stimulation of certain acupuncture points has also been shown to affect areas of the brain that are known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the 'analytical' brain which is responsible for anxiety and worry. Stress-induced changes in behaviour and biochemistry may be reversed. Acupuncture treatment can also help resolve physical ailments such as chronic pain (Zhao 2008), which may be a contributing cause of depression. In addition to offering acupuncture and related therapies, acupuncturists will often make suggestions as to dietary and other lifestyle changes that may be helpful in overcoming depression. Finally, people struggling to cope with depression usually find that coming to see a supportive therapist on a regular basis is helpful in itself. For further information about depression try the Mind website or contact your local Mind branch. If you would like to know more about Acupuncture for Depression, please click here. If you feel you would like to seek professional help of an acupuncturist, it is advisable to see an acupuncturist who is registered with the British Acupuncture council: At the Centre, we also have information on depression, here and have Acupuncturists available who are ready to help.


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