I have a strong interest in Mental Health. In 2017 I became a founding member of Wellington’s Acupuncture for Mental Health Team. I believe that acupuncture can offer much to people suffering from stress, nervousness, and anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In a large randomized controlled trial involving 755 people, researchers investigated the clinical effectiveness of 2 interventions, acupuncture or counseling, in treating patients with depression, and compared these 2 groups to usual care ( anti-depressants) in primary care in northern England. Compared to usual care, there was a statistically significant reduction in depression at 3 months, and at 12 months for both interventions. Acupuncture and Counselling were associated with significantly reduced depression at 3 months when compared to usual care alone. Differences between acupuncture and counseling were not significant.
Acupuncture Can Reduce Anxiety Even When Medication and Cognitive Behavior Therapy Fails
The Effectiveness of Acupuncture Therapy on Stress in a large Urban College Population
Acupuncture was compared to sham acupuncture in this U.S.A study. While participants of both the groups showed a substantial initial decrease in perceived stress scores, at 12 weeks post-treatment, the acupuncture group showed a significantly greater treatment effect than the sham acupuncture group. This study indicates that acupuncture may be successful in decreasing the perception of stress in students and staff at a large urban university, and this effect persists for at least 3 months after the completion of treatment.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
The following clinical trial showed that Acupuncture is an effective treatment for PTSD.
The research divided people with PSTD into 3 groups. Acupuncture, cognitive behavioural therapy ( CBT ), and being waitlisted for treatment. Acupuncture was equal to cognitive behaviour therapy and better than not being treated, even 3 months after treatment had stopped. There was no change in the waitlisted for the treatment group.
An effect Treatment for Depression?
Scientific American published an article titled ‘Can Acupuncture Treat Depression?’ The stated that acupuncture was as effective as antidepressants and may help treat the medications’ side effects.
Another American study reviewed the evidence on treating Anxiety and Depression in Women with acupuncture. Pregnant women, unable to use pharmaceuticals were given acupuncture. The concluded there is high-level evidence to support the use of acupuncture for treating major depressive disorder in pregnancy.
Women’s experiences of having depression during pregnancy and receiving acupuncture treatment
The women in this high-quality study reported gaining benefits from acupuncture that they felt enabled them to better manage their lives and the changes that pregnancy brings.
How Does Acupuncture Work For Mental Health Issues?
Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may specifically benefit anxiety disorders and symptoms of anxiety by:
- Acting on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry (Hui 2010).
- Regulating levels of neurotransmitters (or their modulators) and hormones such as serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, GABA, neuropeptide Y and ACTH; hence altering the brain’s mood chemistry to help to combat negative affective states (Lee 2009; Samuels 2008; Zhou 2008; Yuan 2007).
- Stimulating production of endogenous opioids that affect the autonomic nervous system (Arranz 2007). Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, while acupuncture can activate the opposing parasympathetic nervous system, which initiates the relaxation response.
- Reversing pathological changes in levels of inflammatory cytokines that are associated with anxiety (Arranz 2007)
- Reversing stress-induced changes in behaviour and biochemistry (Kim 2009).
Acupuncture can be safely combined with conventional treatments such as medication or psycho-educational therapy, possibly enhancing their beneficial effects (Courbasson 2007) and reducing unwanted side-effects (Yuan 2007).