Turning to Chinese Medicine for Mental Health Month this May

By Pacific College - June 5, 2014

An estimated 1 in 5 adults suffer from a mental health disorder in a given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Anxiety and depressive disorders are the most common of all mental illnesses. Both are severe, chronic, and can significantly impair the individuals affected by them. Anxiety disorders can produce feelings that range from uneasiness to immobilizing moments of terror. An anxiety symptom may include excessive worrying, a feeling of being out of control, panic attacks, frequent nightmares, and lack of sleep. Any anxiety symptom can be frightening, even debilitating. Each year, 19 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders, and another 19 million experience a depressive illness.

Understanding Depression and Anxiety in Modern Times

Major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. Up to one-half of all visits to primary care physicians are due to conditions that are caused or exacerbated by mental or emotional problems. With so many Americans suffering from mental health disorders, the FDA estimates that sales of depression/anxiety medication , such as Prozac and Zoloft, increased from 14 million prescriptions in 1992 to 157 million in 2002. However, in a study of 2,318 patients conducted by the University of Colorado , only 20 percent of the patients taking depression/anxiety medication were found to improve as a result. Furthermore, studies show that depression/anxiety medication may even increase the risk of suicide rather than decrease it.

One does not have to suffer a major depressive disorder to exhibit signs or symptoms of depression. They can appear for various reasons, and while they may be temporary, they are indicative of a need to take better care and attention of one’s mental health. A sign/symptom of depression or a major depressive disorder could be: low energy or exhaustion, anxiety, disinterest in social activity/fear of being left alone, feelings of failure or guilt, hopelessness, excessive irritability and physical aches and pains that appear to have no physical cause.

Many times people write off a particular sign/symptom of depression or a major anxiety symptom with the excuse of a “bad day,” but these feelings are indicative of an unbalanced system. Oriental medicine can help eliminate the cause of these feelings and any sign/symptom of depression by bringing balance and highlighting a healthy lifestyle that promotes wellbeing of both the body and the mind.

The Efficacy of Chinese Medicine in Mental Health

According to recent studies, acupuncture may be a valuable adjunct therapy for those suffering from mental health disorders such as major depressive disorder . A study conducted at the University of Arizona examined the responses of 34 depressed women to acupuncture, generalized acupuncture that didn’t use specific points, and no treatment at all. Of the women who received acupuncture specifically for depression, 43 percent experienced a reduction in their sign/symptom of depression , compared with 22 percent who received general acupuncture and 14 percent who received no treatment. After eight weeks, over half of the women who received specific acupuncture were no longer depressed.

Two randomized, controlled, clinical trials suggest that electroacupuncture may reduce any sign/symptom of depression as effectively as amitryptiline, a tricyclic antidepressant medication. Electroacupuncture involves the application of a small electrical current through acupuncture needles. Other studies suggest that acupuncture may be effective for people with mild depression and for those with depression related to a chronic medical illness.

Aromatherapy, or the use of essential oils in massage therapy, may also be of value as a supplemental treatment for depression. Theoretically, the smells of the oils elicit positive emotions through the limbic system (the area of the brain responsible for memories and emotions).

Acupuncture and massage provide safe, effective alternatives to controversial depression/anxiety medication . According to Chinese medical practitioners, Qi, or energy, is conducted between the surface of the body and internal organs along pathways called meridians. It is Qi that regulates spiritual, emotional, mental and physical balance. When the flow of Qi is disrupted through poor health habits or other circumstances, disease can result. Acupuncture and massage keep the flow of this energy unblocked, and because Chinese medical practitioners treat patients as individuals, they consequently treat the true source of the depression instead of just prescribing pills.

Stress Management and Mental Wellbeing

It is important to take care of your mental wellbeing, whether you suffer from a clinically diagnosed disorder or are simply experiencing stress. Stress is at the root of many if not most of our modern ailments, yet as a culture we find it difficult to separate ourselves from the stress in our lives. Stress may be manifested physically as the result of too much to do, not enough sleep, a poor diet or the effects of illness. But stress often exhibits itself mentally as a result of worry, grief or trauma. Most stress accumulates subtly through daily strain, causing increases in blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, metabolism and blood flow to your muscles. The constant reactions your body produces can threaten mental health by contributing to the “out of control” feelings associated with stress.

Oriental medicine eases accumulated stress through exercise, meditation and massage. Acupressure (touch or massage on acupuncture points) is especially effective in relieving stress. The ability to regularly relax and focus on the self cannot be underestimated in terms of how it affects mental health.

Acupuncture is a safe and effective tool to relieve stress. Acupuncture treatments can help restore balance and thus protect health by identifying each individual’s unique energy profile to identify weak spots where to offer support in order to restore balance. As the heavy feelings of stress are relieved, people may feel more confidence in their ability to cope with unpleasant aspects of their lives and make necessary changes.

Promoting Good Mental Health Through Chinese Medicine

Good mental health is fundamental to overall health and is essential to personal wellbeing and the ability to lead a healthy, balanced, and productive life. According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s report on mental health, more than half of all Americans with a severe mental illness fail to seek treatment. Yet overall quality of life is greatly improved when a person with a mental health problem gets an early diagnosis and receives appropriate treatment.

It is not surprising that the theme for this year’s observance of mental health awareness month is MIND Your Health, which focuses on the mind-body connection, and is a key element of Oriental medical philosophy. This theme highlights the latest research that draws more clearly than ever the link between our mental and physical health.

A healthy mind will benefit you physically, and vice versa, whether you suffer from a major depressive disorder , one sign/symptom of depression , an anxiety symptom or general stress. Oriental medicine can help you on the path toward balancing your physical and mental wellbeing.

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