Acupuncture for Depression

What is depression?

Depression is a clinical mood disorder that causes ongoing feelings of sadness and loss of interest, amongst others. Depression is more than just feeling sad or “having the blues” though. It is a persistent feeling that you can’t just snap out of, and that has come on for no apparent reason. 

Common symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad, down, or empty
  • Tearfulness, emptiness or feeling hopeless
  • Outbursts of anger, irritability, or frustration
  • Withdrawing from friends or family, social isolation
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities like hobbies, sports or sex
  • Low energy and fatigue, tiredness
  • Trouble with concentration
  • Anxiety, agitation and restlessness
  • Physical symptoms, such as aches and pain, headaches
  • Symptoms of anxiety are commonly found in people with depression, as they are often found together

Like anxiety, depression is a fairly common experience in our society, with 1 in 6 women and 1 in 8 men experiencing depression in Australia.

Can acupuncture treat depression?

Acupuncture has been shown in recent research to be an effective treatment for depression, either as a stand-alone treatment, or in combination with other therapies. Evidence has shown that people who are being treated with anti-depressant medications and acupuncture get better faster than if they were being treated with just anti-depressants.

Acupuncture can also be used alongside other treatments for depression such as counselling, psychotherapy, light therapy or Mindfulness Based support.

Benefits of acupuncture for depression

  • Improved quality of life
  • Better sleep
  • Improvements with chronic pain levels
  • Improved mood
  • Fewer side effects
  • Quick response

What is an acupuncture treatment for depression like?

Your acupuncture session will last about an hour, with the needles in for 25-30 minutes. In your initial appointment I’ll ask about how all aspects of depression are affecting you, including mentally, physically and emotionally. I’ll ask about other aspects of your health and lifestyle, so I can better assess your whole picture of health, allowing me to treat you more effectively.

Acupuncture points for depression can be found all over the body, though the majority that I use will be on the arms and legs. I also use ear acupuncture, which is a more recent development, but can be effective for the symptoms of depression. I’ll get you to lie down on the massage table while I painlessly insert the needles, and then leave you to rest for 25-30 minutes, and let the needles do their work.

Will I feel less depressed after acupuncture?

Everyone has a different experience while getting acupuncture, though most people report feeling calm and relaxed after a treatment. Initially you will feel the most benefit from acupuncture in the first 24-48 hours, so keep an eye out for improved mood, better energy and a more positive outlook. As you have more treatments, these positive effects will last longer and longer.

Is acupuncture a safe treatment for depression?

The acupuncture needles I use are very fine, about the thickness of a human hair, and so they are essentially pain free when being inserted. You may feel a slight pinch as they go in, and then the area may feel warm, or you may feel a heaviness in that area. Or you may feel nothing.

Acupuncture has been shown in the research to be a safe treatment for depression, and is well tolerated when done by a trained professional. It is safe to have when you are taking anti-depressant medications.

Lachlan McDonald
Lachlan McDonald
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Acupuncture for depression: resources and references

Black Dog Institute –

Bosch, P., van den Noort, M., Staudte, H. & Lim, S. (2015), Schizophrenia and Depression: A systematic review of the effectiveness and the working mechanism behind acupuncture. Explore, 11 (4), 281-291.

Chan, Y.Y., Lo, W.Y., Yang, S.N., Chen, Y.H. & Lin, J.G. (2015). The benefit of combined acupuncture and antidepressant medication for depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 176, 106-117.

Health Direct –

MacPherson, H., Vickers, A., Bland, M., Torgersen, D., Corbett, M., Spackman, E., Saramango, P., Woods, B., Weatherly, H., Sculpher, M., Manca, A., Richmond, S., Hopton, A., Eldred, J. & Watt, I. (2017). Acupuncture for chronic pain and depression in primary care: a programme of research. Programme Grants for Applied Research, 5, (3).

Mayo Clinic –

Ormsby, S.M., Dahlen, H.G. & Smith, C.A. (2017). Women’s experiences of having depression during pregnancy and receiving acupuncture treatment: A qualitative study. Women and Birth, 2017, Nov.15, 1-10.

Spackman, E., Richmond, S., Sculpher, M., Bland, M., Brealey, S., Gabe, R., Hopton, A., Keding, A., Lansdown, H., Perren, S., Torgersen, D., Watt, I. & MacPherson, H. (2014). Cost-effectiveness analysis of acupuncture, counselling and usual care in treating patients with depression: the results of the ACUDep trial. PLoS ONE, 9 (11), DOI: 10.137/journal.pone.0113726.