Depression and insomnia are real health crises in the United States today. According to a 2016 report from the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 6.7% of all Americans have experienced an episode of major depression at least once in their life Among adolescents, this number becomes 12.8% of the US population between the ages of 12 and 17 (NIMH, 2016).
[This blog is not intended to replace psychiatric, medical, or psychological care or advice. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, please reach out to a psychologist, or if you need more urgent help, call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255]
What if I told you that acupuncture can help?
In a recent study published in Biomed Research International, researchers evaluated data from eighteen trials comparing acupuncture, Western medicine, and acupuncture and Western medicine combined in the treatment of insomnia related to depression. The researchers evaluated quality of sleep and clinical depression using standardized, widely-used scales. When compared to Western medicine, acupuncture made significant improvements in quality of sleep, and when acupuncture and Western medicine were combined, the improvement in quality of sleep exceeded that of Western medicine alone. Further, there was no difference between the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment and Western medicine in clinical depression scores. This means that acupuncture and Western medicine performed equally well across eighteen randomized-controlled studies in the treatment of clinical depression. Finally, when used together, acupuncture and Western medicine had a greater impact than either acupuncture or Western medicine alone in clinical depression scores (Dong et al, 2017).
This study suggests that acupuncture and Western medicine can be used together to vastly improve clinical depression symptoms for the numerous adults and (especially) adolescents suffering with this chronic illness in America. It is important to note that no person should go off of any medications without first consulting with their prescribing physician, so don’t just “make the switch” to acupuncture. See your doctor today to discuss your options. More research is needed to discern what about acupuncture treatment (rapport, needling technique, which points were used, frequency of treatments, and so on) allowed for these effects so that acupuncturists can employ evidence-based practices. Further research could help to determine how acupuncture impacts depression scores for adults, adolescents, and certain types of mood disorders (major depression, postpartum depression, and bipolar depression, for example).
My personal experience with acupuncture and mental illness is profound. Growing up with a mental illness, I was so sensitive to psychiatric medications that I had debilitating side-effects long before any therapeutic effects were observed. Luckily, I found acupuncture, and together with my Western and Eastern healthcare professionals, I was able to manage my mental illness with acupuncture and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I also have a family member who went to a Chinese herbalist for help with a long-term side effect of a psychological med, and with only a month of treatment the symptom (tardive dyskinesia, involuntary movements of the face and tongue which are usually permanent) disappeared.
In my experience as an acupuncturist, I have seen acupuncture have a profound impact for survivors of trauma, those suffering from panic attacks, and more.
Dong et al, (2017). The efficacy of acupuncture for treating depression-related insomnia compared with a control group: A systematic review and meta-analysis. BioMed Research International. doi:10.1155/2017/9614810
NIMH (2016). Major Depression. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml