By Alex A. Kecskes
In any given year, over 18.8 million American adults, age 18 and older, suffer from depression. Nearly twice as many women as men are affected by this often debilitating condition. Depression affects approximately five percent of children and teenagers.
Depression is often symptomatic of the body’s response to overwhelming and constant stress. This stress could be the result of mounting anxiety, nutritional deficiencies, allergies to environmental influences, and any number of other stress-inducing factors. The symptoms of depression vary but generally manifest themselves in the following ways:
- Weeks of melancholy mood
- Prolonged disinterest in life’s simple daily pleasures
- Significant weight loss or weight gain without dieting or changes in appetite
- Prolonged insomnia or hypersomnia
- Anxiety and nervousness, or lethargy and ennui
- Ongoing feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and desperation
- Inability to concentrate, indecisiveness
- Daily thoughts of death or suicide
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Impaired social and occupational abilities
Most western doctors and therapists will diagnose a congregation of the above symptoms as depression. They will typically treat the condition with anti-depressive medications, which may take up to six weeks to take effect. When depression turns to suicide, however, more urgent and direct intervention is required, including psychological counseling.
Regrettably, nearly half of those who seek treatment for depression find no relief from psychotherapy and medication, or they withdraw from treatment too early. Of those who recover, more than one third fall into relapse within 18 months. Many who suffer from depression turn to alternative treatments, which may, in some cases, be helpful. One of these alternatives is traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
TCM draws on nature to help rebalance the body. It treats the symptoms that are unique to the individual using a variety of techniques such as acupuncture to restore imbalances in the body. By inserting fine needles along various points in the body, acupuncture stimulates the body’s flow of energy or Qi, which regulates one’s emotional, mental, and physical balance. Acupuncture is believed to keep the body’s normal flow of energy unblocked, and thereby help restore mental health.
Inserting needles into the body’s key energy pathways can stimulate the central nervous system, releasing chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. This can promote the body’s natural healing abilities by altering brain chemistry and by helping to release neurotransmitters and neurohormones. Studies have shown that treating depression with acupuncture can have a positive, holistic effect on depressed patients, particularly when acupuncture is combined with psychotherapy and herbs.
In one double-blind random study, 34 female patients suffering from depression were assigned to one of three treatment groups for eight weeks. The first group received acupuncture treatment tailored to their depression symptoms. The second group was given general acupuncture treatments not specific to depression. Finally, the third group received no treatment. The study found that those in the tailored acupuncture treatment experienced a significant reduction in symptoms, compared to those in the non-specific treatment.
Before attempting any acupuncture therapy for the treatment of depression, you should first consult you primary care physician or state-licensed, board-certified psychologist. After you have seen your doctor/psychologist and he or she advises that acupuncture may help you, find a licensed acupuncturist who is nationally certified through the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (www.ncbtmb.org) or the American Massage Therapy Association (www.amtamassage.org).