Acupuncture for Depression
Most people feel a bit miserable from time to time, but depression, or depressive illness, can involve prolonged feelings of extreme sadness which last for weeks, months or even years. It also involves a loss of self-esteem and an inability to find enjoyment in activities which previously gave satisfaction. In some cases there may be an obvious trigger of depression, for example a bereavement or loss of a job, whereas in others cases the cause is less obvious.
It is estimated that between 5 and 10% of the population are suffering from depression at any one time, and each individual in the UK has a one in five chance of having an episode of depression during their lifetime.
Other symptoms which can accompany depression include fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite (although some sufferers resort to ‘comfort eating’ and can put on weight), irritability, anxiety, loss of interest in sex, and the desire to avoid other people.
Depression and TCM
Although many people today tend to associate acupuncture with the treatment of things like back pain, it has been used in the treatment of emotional problems, such as depression, for thousands of years. This is because in TCM the mind and the body are not seen as separate but as intimately linked. Hence we can use acupuncture points on various parts of the body, typically the arms and legs, to affect the mind.
One common problem which is part of many cases of depression is what is called in TCM ‘Qi Stagnation’. Our Qi, which in health is abundant and free-flowing, becomes stuck. This usually happens as a result of stress or emotional frustration, especially when we have not been able to express our emotions freely, for whatever reason. This creates a vicious circle in which we feel stuck, lethargic and depressed, and our Qi becomes more stagnant. Acupuncture helps here because it is effective at restoring the smooth flow of Qi — leaving us feeling lighter and freer. Thus it gives a way out of the vicious circle, and creates an opportunity for us to begin to move forward in our life again, giving us the energy to help resolve and heal whatever is blocking our life-energy. Chi Kung exercise will also be very helpful here in promoting the return of abundantly flowing Qi.
Another factor in many cases of depression is deficiency; here it is not so much that our Qi is stuck, but rather that we have not got enough of it. Treatment here will focus on boosting the Qi, and may include tonic herbal treatments as well as acupuncture.
Whilst the initial focus of such treatments is to give us the energy to move forward in our life, the underlying philosophy of Chinese Medicine will also inform treatment. A part of this philosophy is the idea of ’destiny’; this is not fate, but rather the idea that our task in life is to give expression to our unique individuality. If we are doing this, we will be fulfilled and nourished by a deep well of positivity, no matter what life throws at us; if we are not doing this, we will be stuck, frustrated and depressed. Thus part of what we try to do is to help you to rediscover your own unique individuality and find a way of giving expression to it in your life. This is, of course, not always a straightforward matter, but as the Chinese say, ’a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’.
Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Depression?
The World Health Organization1 lists depression among the conditions for which acupuncture has been proved, through controlled trials, to be an effective treatment. A meta-analysis2 of randomised controlled trials involving a total of 477 patients similarly suggested that acupuncture was an effective treatment for depression and could significantly reduce the severity of the disease. A more recent trial3 demonstrated that acupuncture treatment compared favourably with counselling and standard usual care.
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I came to the clinic in September 2010 suffering mainly with anxiety and bouts of depressive moods, feeling low and sad. I had no energy, feeling very fatigued and depressed most of the time and finding it difficult to motivate myself to enjoy my retirement as I should.
I explained my state of mind to my acupuncturist. I felt “low” most of the time, plagued by negative thoughts and even low self esteem. I had been feeling like this for some time after illness and personal relationship and family problems. I have had eczema on my buttocks when the anxiety was at its highest. One month before my treatment at the clinic, I even had nosebleeds. I saw my doctor and he gave me some anti-biotics, but the nosebleeds continued with unexplained headaches when I felt stressed. I know now that these were caused by tension and stress.
I am delighted to say that my rash, the nosebleeds and headaches have stopped after my treatment. I felt very well and strong after the fourth session.
I had six sessions within less than five weeks and I am also relieved from my anxiety and dark thoughts. I feel positive and I have regained my usual energy. I feel confident and no longer anxious and frightened, able to face normal every day challenges.
I intend to continue my treatment, to have at least two sessions per month and then one session.
This is not the first time that I have had acupuncture in my life, but I would say that this latest experience has been spectacular and I would encourage anyone to try it.
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After having surgery and radiotherapy for breast cancer, my consultant prescribed two drugs which created an early menopause. The menopausal symptoms were severe, especially the hot flushes – as many as twelve or fifteen per day and several during the night. The result; depression, tiredness and being continually uncomfortable. My husband suggested I try acupuncture after seeing a lady on TV for whom acupuncture had worked in similar circumstances. The immediate results were quite amazing. The hot flushes became less severe, my general mood improved dramatically and the breast pain I had since surgery disappeared. I highly recommend acupuncture as a complementary treatment for patients recovering from breast cancer.
The first time I met Vimala I told him the only thing I looked forward to was sleep. Sadly, at 46 years old, this was quite true. I have suffered from anxiety all my life (have a constant dull headache) and as I got older had symptoms of depression as well. Once I hit my forties I started experiencing feelings of extreme panic (dry mouth, racing heart, pounding head, tremors, feelings of dread, weepiness, and insomnia). Sometimes, my heart would feel like it was thundering so loudly I was convinced the people in close proximity could hear it. My appetite was non-existent therefore I was underweight and my symptoms certainly dictated my life. I was forever avoiding the situations that I was able to, particularly social, and lived in dread of those I had to face (such as work). As I work for the NHS and have a certain knowledge of medicine I managed for as long as able without prescribed medication for fear of replacing one problem with another i.e. side effects of the type of drug I knew I was likely to be prescribed if I presented with the symptoms I have described. However, in my early forties I felt if I didn’t do something I would get to the stage where I was unable to get out of bed and face the day and realised that would most certainly lead to a downward spiral of time off work and probably exacerbate the problem. I was duly prescribed antidepressants and sleeping pills, plus pain relief tablets for the constant headache. I stopped the antidepressants after about six months as they didn’t seem to help as much as I had hoped and I couldn’t cope with the side effects (flushing, night sweats and a rather numb or spaced feeling) but habitually took the pain relief and the sleeping tablets. I looked forward to sleep because it was the only relief from my symptoms.
Three months later, and after a course of ten acupuncture sessions (I now have an acupuncture session every 3-4 weeks) I am a somewhat different (certainly calmer) person. My energy levels have risen considerably and continue to do so, my body feels very much lighter (although I have actually put on weight as my appetite is improved), my head and mind are clearer and my attitude is more positive and optimistic. I haven’t had a panic attack since my third or fourth session of acupuncture and rarely take pain relief tablets. My next challenge is to stop the sleeping tablets. I still have my old friend the headache, but it is ever decreasing in intensity and constancy. While I would not claim to be completely symptom free (I still suffer some occasional anxiety but nothing like the sheer panic and dread I used to experience), I would claim to be able to cope with it and understand it better and be able to alleviate it more successfully than I have ever been able to before.
I embraced acupuncture as I really wanted it to work and it has, and I’ve also made other lifestyle changes (diet, exercise and try to explore what makes me the way I am) to ensure I was working with it and giving it my optimum. I wish I had done it years ago. I enjoy the sessions immensely – I would rather have acupuncture than a massage.
When I first told Vimala all I looked forward to was sleep, he said ‘we’ll see if we can do something about that’ – and he has.
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Tinnitus, Loss of Hearing Insomnia, Anxiety, Depression, Panic/Claustrophobia.
3 Years ago I suddenly developed very severe Tinnitus and some loss of hearing. It happened in the night and was very frightening. Consequently it triggered several panic attacks and insomnia (which I had never suffered from before). Doctors and specialist both private and NHS gave me numerous tests. They informed me that there was nothing they could do and that I would probably have tinnitus for life. They warned me that my hearing could deteriorate further. They said that they didn’t know what had caused it but suspected it was either a virus (I had a persistent dry cough at the time of the attack) or a side effect of the antibiotics my doctor had given me at that time. I became very depressed as the quality of my life was severely affected. The loud relentless ringing in my ear dominated everything. I became anxious – worried that the tinnitus would get even worse and that I might lose my hearing altogether as the doctors said this was a possibility. I seemed to be in a downward spiral and it was severely affecting both my working and personal life.
The doctors had given up on me but I hadn’t given up on myself so I decided to try acupuncture as I had read that it could help tinnitus and I had found it had helped me many years ago when I suffered with dizziness. I found Sean in Yellow Pages and went to see him. I was extremely impressed. He deliberated my medical history thoroughly and after performing various tests and checking my “chi” (all painless) seemed confident he could help me – not only with the tinnitus, but the insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks and depression as well. Sean’s philosophy on life is inspiring and his cheerful, positive approach is a tonic. Even after my first visit I felt a lot better.
I found the acupuncture painless and relaxing. Sean also gave me Chinese herbal tablets. After the third treatment I began sleeping normally again much to my amazement as I had been suffering severe insomnia for almost 3 months. I continued with regular treatments and gradually the tinnitus which had been driving me mad, began to lessen. The depression lifted along with the anxiety and panic. I began to feel like my “old” self again. The tinnitus has been reduced by about 75% and it is now only a faint “hum” in the background and the excruciating high pitched ringing has gone. It no longer dominates my life – I fact most of the time I don’t even notice it. Sean gave me my life back! I will always be grateful to him.
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I first attended the Clinic of Traditional Chinese Medicine on the recommendation of a friend. I had earlier been diagnosed with severe anaemia along with Post Natal Depression and Post Traumatic Stress by my usual doctor, and a friend suggested that acupuncture might be beneficial for me. I was on a fairly high dose of anti-depressants which I didn’t feel were helping me much so decided to contact the clinic. Before I went for a consultation I was provided with much information about how Chinese medicine could help with things such as depression and the physical symptoms I was experiencing.
My first impression of the clinic was that it was a very relaxed friendly place to be with lovely staff who made me feel right at ease. My treatment was acupuncture along with Chinese herbs. All through my treatment I was informed of what was going on and I felt I could talk freely with the [therapists] there. I felt I was really listened to and that even little things which I didn’t feel were important were taken into consideration before being given treatment. I know it might sound mad but I actually found the acupuncture quite relaxing.
I am so glad I went along to the clinic. I’m still not sure how Chinese medicine works but for me it has made such a huge difference. Right from that very first session I felt I was slightly improved and as the weeks went by I built upon this. Now I am just about fully recovered from my anaemia and post natal illnesses and am sure that a huge chunk of this is due to the treatment received at the hands of Sean and the team. I have been recommending them highly to my friends and family.
1 WHO (2002):Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports of Controlled Clinical Trials.
2 Wang H. et al (2008) Is acupuncture beneficial in depression: A meta-analysis of 8 randomized controlled trials? J Affect Disord. Dec;111(2-3):125-34.
3 MacPherson H, Richmond S, Bland M, Brealey S, Gabe R, et al. (2013) Acupuncture and Counselling for Depression in Primary Care: A Randomised Controlled Trial. PLoS Med 10(9): e1001518. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001518
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