Depression – specifically major depressive disorder – is a condition where a person experiences a low mood state for an extended period of time, and where that state affects the person’s ability to perform their daily life activities. Depression affects a person’s enjoyment of activities and can be very debilitating as a result. People who suffer from depressive episodes often have repeat occurrences in the future, meaning that those who suffer from depression can struggle over the course of their whole lives.
Treatment for depression often includes antidepressant medications & psychotherapy. These can be very effective but do have their risks. Antidepressants tend to numb a person’s emotional life completely, and psychotherapy has questionable results for mild to moderate cases of depression in patients. For people who are depressed but can’t stand the medications or don’t get results with psychotherapy, acupuncture can be an excellent choice of treatment. And for those who can tolerate medication, combining acupuncture with antidepressants is more effective than medication alone.
Research indicates that acupuncture is effective for depression, specifically major depressive disorder, and it helps in a few ways. In the short-term treatment, acupuncture brings patients a sense of calm and creates a way for them to escape from the despairs of their world. Over time this sense of peace radiates between treatments and helps patients change their mindsets. From a Western medical perspective this is because acupuncture helps regulate the ratio of neurotransmitters in the brain.
Acupuncture can also help with secondary symptoms often found with depression, such as anxiety, insomnia, headaches, or fatigue. Further, acupuncture treatment can be an effective therapy for patients who want to get off their antidepressants, either because the medications aren’t working, or because patients can’t stand the emotional numbing they cause, or because there are other side effects.
Now, because depressed patients have the tendency to relapse, it’s important to look and see whether acupuncture is helpful over longer stretches of time. When we do, we find that acupuncture is best for picking people up during their low points and recovering motivation, but it doesn’t replace the social support system that helps keep people from relapsing. Patients will need to find this either through friends and family, from their acupuncturist directly, or through the community found in community acupuncture clinics.
Regardless of where a patient finds their support network, regular treatment with acupuncture is important during the beginning states of managing depression. It is only through regular treatment that a patient can gain the headway necessary to lift themselves up out of their despair. Once progress is made, treatment can be scaled back or terminated completely.