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 –

Hu, Z., Lam, W., Li, H., Yao, L., Wang, Z., Huang, W. Bian, Z. & Zhong, L. (2021). A network meta-analysis on the effectiveness and safety of acupuncture in treating patients with major depressive disorder. Scientific Reports,

Li, W., Sun, M., Yin, X., Lao, L., Kuang, Z. & Xu, S. (2020). The effect of acupuncture on depression and its correlation with metabolic alterations. Medicine (Baltimore), 99 (43).

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.

Xiao, X., Zhang, J., Jin, Y., Wang, Y. & Zhang, Q. (2020). Effectiveness and safety of acupuncture for perimenopausal depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine,

You, J., Li, H., Xie, D., Chen, R. & Chen, M. (2021) Acupuncture for chronic pain-related depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Pain Research and Management,

Zhang, Z., Li, S., Meng, H., Wang, Y., Zhang, Y., Wu, M., Chen, Rong, P. & Wang, Y. (2021). Efficacy and safety of acupuncture in the treatment of depression: a systematic review of clinical research. The Anatomical Record: Advances in Integrative Anatomy and Evolutionary Biology,