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Treating Depression with Chinese Medicine
red peony
Many people are surprised to learn that acupuncture and Chinese herbs can be an effective form of treatment for depression. In fact, Chinese medicine can be most effective in treating this condition. The Five Element Tradition of acupuncture, because it places so much emphasis on treating the emotions, can be a particularly powerful form of treatment. Chinese herbal formulas are also most helpful in treating depression, and provide a safe, effective way to support the Chi.
Symptoms of depression vary a great deal from one person to another, however many symptoms do occur commonly. These include fatigue, lethargy, insomnia, loss of appetite or over-eating, and loss of libido. Low self-esteem, indecisiveness, confusion and anger are also often present. In more severe cases there may also be suicidal tendencies.
Causes of Depression
Many different factors precipitate a period of depression. Common are stress with relationships, money or work. For many women the menstrual cycle can also cause depression. Unresolved trauma and difficulty in expressing emotions such as frustration and anger can also lead to depression. For some people there may not be a conscious cause, but periodically they are over come by deep feelings of despair and hopelessness.
Diagnosis & Treatment
From the perspective of Five Element acupuncture there can be many different reasons why depression will occur. The five elements of Chinese medicine are Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal. An imbalance in any one of these elements could cause depression, so it is necessary to determine which of the elements is the primary cause.
In nearly all cases of depression the patient’s shen or spirit will be involved. Acupuncture points that support and re-establish the connection to the spirit will often be helpful in relieving depression. For example if the Wood element is the primary element that needs support, a point on the Liver meridian, such as Gate of Hope can be included in treatment. The name of a point often describes the effect of that point, so Gate of Hope can help a patient rekindle a sense of hope and optimism for life. Other points that can help lift the shen and help remove depression are Spiritual Soul Gate, Gate of Life  and Great Esteem.
Chinese herbal formulas have been used for many thousands of years to treat depression. The herbal formula selected needs to fit the symptom picture of the patient. If the patient is depressed and agitated, formulas that include herbs such as zizyphus and albizza, which have a calming effect could be used.  On the other hand if the chi has lost its natural vibrancy and vitality and has become stagnant, herbs such as bupluerum and peony which move and stimulate the chi are chosen.
It is often essential that some form of exercise is incorporated into a patient’s life. Exercise helps to keep the chi moving and reduces the tendency of it stagnating and becoming blocked. Yoga, Tai chi and Chi Qing are all particularly helpful because they build and move the vital energy. Ideally these forms of movement should also be combined with a more aerobic form of exercise such as walking or swimming.
Chinese medicine aims at rebalancing the body mind and spirit by addressing the underlying cause of an individual’s depression. When treatment is combined with life style changes the results can be very powerful.

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