What is Depression?

Depression is more than feeling a little bit down; Depression involves changes to your emotions, thoughts, behaviour and physical changes.  Signs of depression include feeling sad, irritable, numb or empty, losing pleasure and interest in activities and withdrawing from friends or family.  During a depressive episode, people often experience difficulty functioning in personal, family, or work settings.

Other symptoms of depression can include:

  • Difficulty concentrating;
  • Feeling irritable, agitated, frustrated or fatigued;
  • Changes in sleeping patterns, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much;
  • Changes in weight;
  • Having negative thoughts and feelings;
  • Worrying or feeling hopeless about the future;
  • Thinking of suicide.

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, there are many useful resources available, try https://www.beyondblue.org.au/  or https://headspace.org.au/assets.

Most people with depression are treated with antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or tricyclic antidepressants (TCA’s).  Psychological treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling or psychotherapy may also be used.   However, as many as 30% of people are only partially responsive or non-responsive to these treatments (Armour et al., 2019).  Because of this, many people try complementary medicine such as acupuncture to help them reduce symptoms of depression (Armour et al., 2019).


How can Chinese Medicine treat depression?

Chinese Medicine (CM) has a long history of treating the mind and body as a whole.  Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Formulas have historically been used, together or alone, to treat depression.

In CM depression is seen to result from a deficiency of Qi; caused by depletion of the body over time.  This depletion could be due to physical factors such as overwork, irregular or poor diet, physical pain or chronic illness.  For instance, childbirth can deplete the body and without enough rest or practical support, women are at risk of post-partum depression.  Thyroid or other hormonal imbalances are another common cause of depletion over time which often lead to depression.

Depletion can also be caused by psychological or emotional factors, worry, grief and long-term stress can exhaust the Qi.   Strong emotions are seen to have an effect on the internal organs, and can also be affected by the internal organs.  For example, grief is associated with the lungs and can damage the lungs as an organ over time.


Any condition which has not been resolved can lead to depression.   Chinese Medicine treatment for depression depends on diagnosing and treating the root cause of the problem.

Depression can be divided into excess or deficiency patterns.  An excess pattern may result in feeling moody, tense, agitated and short-tempered.  A person with a deficient pattern may suffer more anxiety, timidity and sleep problems.  A Chinese Medicine Practitioner will determine which pattern a person has and which organs of the body are affected.  The Heart, Spleen, Kidney and Heart can all become depleted which leads to a lack of willpower, drive, enthusiasm and physical and mental faculties.  The Liver and Gallbladder can be affected which will lead to depression which is worse in the morning.  Treatment is tailored to the individual and aims to restore the smooth flow of Qi to all the organs.

Evidence for Acupuncture for Depression

Scientific trials have found that both manual acupuncture and electro-acupuncture reduce depression when compared with SSRI’s.   Acupuncture combined with SSRI’s is also beneficial, with studies showing that combining Acupuncture with SSRI’s reduces the severity of depression compared with SSRI’s alone (Li, 2019).

Various studies have compared the incidence of side effects from acupuncture compared with antidepressant drugs and have found that acupuncture had fewer side effects (Li, 2019).

A combination of Acupuncture and Western medicine can work well for many people.


Evidence for Chinese Medicine for Depression

There are also a number of studies exploring Traditional Chinese Medicine formula’s which are used for different types of depression.  For instance, Xiao Yao San is a mixture of eight herbs and has been found to have an antidepressant activity (Jing et al., 2015).  Clinical studies have shown Xiao Yao San is as effective as anti-depressants in the treatment of postpartum depression (Li et al., 2016; Yang et al., 2018).  Different herbal formulae are suited to different patterns of depression.


What can I expect from a Chinese Medicine Appointment?

The Chinese Medicine Practitioner will ask you questions about your condition and also your general health.  The pulse will be taken and the practitioner may ask to see your tongue as it helps with diagnosis.   The practitioner will then insert fine acupuncture needles in different parts of the body.  This is generally not painful but there may be a dull achy sensation that most people can tolerate.  A herbal formula individualised for your condition may be prescribed.

It will take at least six sessions of Acupuncture to relieve symptoms of depression, chronic depression may require some months of treatment.

Why not call Jane and ask how Acupuncture or Chinese Medicine could reduce your symptoms of depression and improve your wellbeing.


Reference List

Hou WH, Chiang PT, Hsu TY, Chiu SY, Yen YC. “Treatment effects of massage therapy in depressed people: a meta-analysis.” J Clin Psychiatry. 2010 Jul;71(7):894-901. doi: 10.4088/JCP.09r05009blu. Epub 2010 Mar 23. PMID: 20361919.

Li, M., Niu, K., Yan, P., Yao, L., He, W., Wang, M., Li H., Cai, L., Li, X., Shi, X., Liu, X., & Yang, K. (2019).  The effectiveness and safety of acupuncture for depression: An overview and meta-analyses.  Complementary Therapies in Medicine.  50:102202. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2019.102202.

Rossi, E. & Caretto, L. (2007). Shen: Psycho-Emotional Aspects of Chinese Medicine. Churchill Livingstone. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-443.

World Health Organisation. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression.

Yang, L., Di, Y.M., Shergis, J.L., Li, Y., Zhang, AL., Lu, C., Gao, X., & Xue, C.C. (2018). A systematic review of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine for postpartum depression. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. http://doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2018.08.006.

Yeung, Q., Chung, K., Ng, K., Yu, Y., Zhang, S., Ng, B., & Ziea, E. (2015). Prescription of Chinese Herbal Medicine in Pattern-Based Traditional Chinese Medicine Treatment for Depression: A Systematic Review.  Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2015/160189.

Zhang, Y. & Cheng, Y. (2019). Challenge and Prospect of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Depression Treatment.  Frontiers in Neuroscience.  https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2019.00190.