Does Acupuncture for Depression Work?

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OK. Does acupuncture for depression work? What can acupuncture for depression do for you?

Been depressed? Not fun, is it? And though few of us die from depression, at least compared to heart, circulatory and respiratory diseases, it's still the case that depression and anxiety-like disorders affect 1 in 6 of us every year.

At least 2 out of every 100 people you know probably suffer from depression, and if anxiety is included, it's up to 1 in 10 for men, and over a lifetime, it's one in five for women. That's a lot of misery.

And it's costly too. The cost of depression to the economy exceeds that of high blood pressure and diabetes put together, and it affects relationships, work, and personal self-worth.

Acupuncture for depression, when used appropriately, could re-energize so many lives. By the way! If you've had a good experience with this page and would be willing to share it, click here.

What do we mean by the term 'Depression'?

There's what you mean by it, what I mean by it, and what doctors mean.

Then there's what Chinese medicine means by it. Which is not a lot, because 'depression' isn't a term used in classical Chinese medicine acupuncture theory so there isn't a specific 'acupuncture for depression' treatment.

As with orthodox Western medicine, which has lots of different kinds of depression, so too does Chinese medicine have a range of patterns of disease.

Some them are very like what we call 'depression', but more precise.

This is important! Chinese medicine, and Classical acupuncture, treat Chinese medicine's syndromes of disease. 

If what you mean by depression has symptoms which equate with one of those syndromes, then receiving acupuncture for it may very well help you.

How Fast will Acupuncture for Depression Work?

If your condition is recent, mild, and easy to diagnose in Chinese Medicine, then the correct 'acupuncture for depression' treatment works fast: possibly very fast - in minutes perhaps.

If you've had depression for years, been on many drugs, seen many specialists, and you feel suicidal: acupuncture for depression like yours will probably work only slowly. That's not to say it won't work, but it may take at least a year to see lasting progress.

But let's not get gloomy.

The problem is this. There isn't a specific acupuncture for depression treatment that would apply to everyone with depression. Even in Western medicine, the medication is chosen according to the diagnosis, so nothing new there.

The difference is that in reaching the diagnosis in Chinese medicine, virtually every known symptom and factor about the patient might be needed to reach a diagnosis: probably far more than in Western Medicine. In addition, each factor can really only be understood in relation to all the other factors: they aren't separate - they work all together making the patient unique.

For instance, an acupuncture for depression diagnosis would consider not just the history and symptoms, but also the skin colour (we don't mean racial colour, but hue arising from the blood underneath), the sound of the voice, the pulse qualities, the skin odour; even previous health conditions that appeared to have no connection, and so on.

People who share a Western diagnosis, such as 'depression', might be diagnosed with a combination of patterns of disharmony in Chinese medicine. 

Each such disharmony might require a different treatment, and it's up to the skill of the acupuncturist in preparing a treatment to  prioritize and harmonize treatments to suit the patient. There's no 'standard' treatment. So there's no straight answer to the question 'Does acupuncture for Depression work?'

(That makes it much more interesting for the acupuncturist of course, and makes him or her possibly much more open to working with the patient anew each time. You, the patient, are never expected to be the same, requiring the same treatment as last time. You are seen as dynamic, changing, and your acupuncturist must adapt each time: much more interesting for your practitioner! The correct acupuncture for depression treatment for you is a new challenge every time.)

Research on Acupuncture for Depression?

Not much, as yet. It's costly to do, takes ages, there aren't enough people doing it, and what's been done is in Chinese or Russian.

Still, there are abstracts of this research translated into English: they suggest that from the Western point of view, acupuncture for depressive symptoms and for depression can be effective. Possibly as effective as treatment with TriCyclic Antidepressant drugs (TCAs), but without the side-effects.

Nowadays, such drugs (ie TCAs) are being replaced by SSRIs and SNRIs, (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors and Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors) which don't have such unpleasant side-effects: at least, not so far. But plenty of people are still prescribed TCAs.

Click here for an overview of research on acupuncture for depression.

These Russian and Chinese trials  showed acupuncture for depression worked best for patients with what is described as 'melancholic' depression. This is regarded as being quite a  severe form of depression, usually requiring antidepressants, psychotherapy in a supportive role, and sometimes electro-convulsive therapy, depending on which country you live in.

What are the symptoms of melancholic depression?
The symptoms of melancholic depression often include weight loss, inability to find pleasure even in positive things, sleeplessness and/or waking in the early morning, and psychomotor agitation or retardation.

(What's Psychomotor agitation? This is when, because of mental anxiety or tension, you show unintentional or purposeless motions, like repeatedly rubbing your hands together, or picking at things, or taking off then putting on your clothes, or pacing around: even chewing fingernails or lips until they bleed. Retardation is when your thinking processes slow down and you move less: you react and speak more slowly.)

Where Acupuncture for Depression Doesn't Work so well

Where acupuncture for depression seemed less effective (in the few trials undertaken), was with anxious and apathetic depressions or where there was psychosis.

That doesn't mean acupuncture can't help these conditions, but that the strict treatment protocol, with prescribed acupuncture points, that worked on melancholic depression wasn't effective in these other kinds of depression.

In other words, the points which work for melancholic depression aren't the same as the points which work on anxious depression.

As I said earlier, the acupuncture for depression points have to be chosen according to the particular symptoms of the patient. There is no one-size-fits-all.

That means that each patient treated with acupuncture in those trials might have fared much better if acupuncture points had been chosen appropriate to the individual patient's condition, instead of a fixed group of points, same for everyone, making results easy to compare.

Symptoms of Depression

Western medicine diagnoses major depression when at least five out of nine possible symptoms occur daily during a given two-week period, and are different from previous behaviour and functioning.

There has to be, in addition to five or more of the conditions listed below, a state of depressed mood every day, with loss of pleasure in almost all or all activities.

  1. Insomnia (sleeplessness) or hypersomnia (can't stop sleeping)
  2. Fatigue, or feeling of worthlessness: loss of energy
  3. Either weight loss (not due to dieting) or significant weight gain (over 5% of body weight in a month), with either a decreased or increased appetite every day
  4. Recurring thoughts of dying or death or suicide
  5. Reduced ability to think or concentrate, and indecisiveness
  6. A sense of excessive guilt, or inappropriate guilt
  7. Psycho-motor agitation or retardation nearly every day

Obviously these symptoms should not arise from taking drugs or from some kind of medical condition. Also, the symptoms must interfere or cause distress in terms of work or friendships (for example).

Co-morbidity of depression with other mental disorders

Like buses, problems don't usually come alone. They come hand-in-hand with other problems, or one after the other. (In fact, in the USA, they did a National Co-morbidity Survey which concluded that having just one mental disorder was less common than having at least two together.) If depression comes with other problems, it may be harder to treat, whatever therapy is used.

For example, depression often accompanies dependence on alcohol, or panic disorders, or anxiety disorders, or what is called 'borderline personality' disorder.

Also, if you have a serious or chronic medical condition like cancer or stroke, diabetes or prolonged pain, you are more likely to suffer from depression.

When there is this co-morbidity, it could be because:

  1. You have a long history of depression, or the depression arises from something other than the medical condition
  2. You get depression as a reaction to the medical condition and the problems it gives you
  3. The medical condition has a physiological effect on you causing depression.

Click here to read more about the results of orthodox treatment of depression.

For an informative and readable overview of depression and all the options on depression including self-help, go to

So, What Can Acupuncture for Depression offer you? Click Here to get there from this page on Does Acupuncture for Depression work!

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