Mental Health


I have a strong interest in Mental Health.  In 2017 I became a founding member of Wellington’s Acupuncture for Mental Health (AMH).  In January 2020 I graduated as a Neuropuncturist. Neuropuncture is a unique acupuncture system that incorporates research on the neurophysiological mechanisms of acupuncture and combines it with research on electrical acupuncture’s effects on specific neural receptors. I believe that both acupuncture and electro-acupuncture can offer much to people suffering from stress, nervousness, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. I have listed a few research articles that may be of interest. And further, down the page, I have written about the mechanisms involved when acupuncture is applied to treat mental illness are explained.

Acupuncture is equal to counseling in effectively reducing depression when compared to usual care alone. 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. Differences between acupuncture and counseling were not significant.

‘Can Acupuncture Treat Depression?’ Scientific American published an article that showed acupuncture was as effective as antidepressants and may help treat the medications’ side effects.

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.

Acupuncture Can Reduce Anxiety Even When Medication and Cognitive Behavior Therapy Fails. This study published in the British Medical Journal suggests that “acupuncture is a promising intervention for patients with chronic anxiety symptoms that have proven resistant to other forms of treatment”. The positive effects were maintained even after their post-treatment check 10 weeks later.

The Effectiveness of Acupuncture Therapy on Stress in a Large Urban College Population. 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. While participants of both groups showed a substantial initial decrease in perceived stress scores, at 12 weeks post-treatment, the acupuncture group showed a significantly greater treatment effect acupuncture than the sham ( not a true control)acupuncture group.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The research divided people with PTSD into 3 groups.  Acupuncture, cognitive behavioral therapy ( CBT ), and being waitlisted for treatment.  Acupuncture was equal to cognitive behavior 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. Acupuncture is an effective treatment for PTSD.

Both electro-acupuncture and medication therapy may improve the symptoms of PTSD patients; the former is better than the latter in efficacy. was the conclusion of this randomised controlled trial. The population studied was 512 earthquake-caused PTSD patients.

‘There is high-level evidence to support the use of acupuncture for treating a major depressive disorder in pregnancy’  concluded the authors in this American study reviewing the evidence on treating pregnant women, who, unable to use pharmaceuticals to treat anxiety and depression, were given acupuncture.

 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?

The role of acupuncture in treating mental illness is its ability to stimulate key brain structures that are involved in emotion processing, such as the hippocampus, amygdala, anterior cingulate cortex, insula, and orbitofrontal cortex (1), (2)

Acupuncture is also able to regulate brain function(3), (4) to tackle some side effects of depression such as stress(5)  addiction(6), (7), obesity(8), and sleep deprivation(9),(10),(11).

In addition, acupuncture regulates neuroplasticity(12), reduces inflammation (13), and stimulates BDNF, GDNF, and NGF(14)  (15).  Acupuncture has also been seen to regulate the balance of the brain chemicals(16) dopamine(17), serotonin(18), GABA, and opioids(19).

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).

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 the 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)
  • The remainder of the research listed comes from the Effect of electroacupuncture therapy on serum serotonin levels of patients with anxiety symptoms.
  • Acupuncture regulates the serotonin and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) levels, which are associated with anxiety.
    Electroacupuncture (EA) has a significant anti-anxiety effect, and it decreases serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine levels and significantly increases GABA levels. Thus, EA may regulate the positive expression of monoamine and GABA in the central nervous system (CNS) and may restore the balance in these neurotransmitters [21].
  • Acupuncture increases and prolongs the activity of serotonergic neurons in the reward system of the brain [22]. Other studies on the effect of acupuncture on neurotransmitter levels of individuals with an anxiety disorder are as follows:
  • Yuan et al. in 2007, conducted a study on jin-3-needling acupuncture therapy at the points of Sishenzhen and Dingshenzhen and PC 6 Neiguan, HT 7 Shenmen, and SP 6 Sanyinjiao, with results that showed that patients with GAD presented with high serum platelet, serotonin, and ACTH levels along with improvements in anxiety symptoms. Thus, acupuncture regulates serotonin and ACTH levels, and this is one of the mechanisms associated with improvements in anxiety [20].
    Zhou et al. in 2008, examined the effect of EA at the GV 20 Baihui and SP 6 Sanyinjiao points on the imbalance in monoamine and GABA levels on the SSP of chronic emotional stress-induced mice, and results showed that EA has anti-anxiety effects and significantly decreases serotonin,
    norepinephrine, and dopamine levels and increases GABA levels. Thus, EA may regulate the positive expression of monoamine and GABA levels in the CNS and may restore balance in these neurotransmitters [21].
    Yoshimoto et al. in 2006, examined the neuropharmacological mechanisms of acupuncture on changes in monoamine release in vivo in the brain of 24 mice, resulting in a change in serotonin release in the nucleus accumbens for 20 min and lasted up to 40 min after acupuncture (120 min), and the effect is greater in the bilateral BLEN than in the bilateral Senshu. In conclusion, acupuncture affects the activity of serotonergic neurons in the reward system of the brain. Thus, it may be effective for individuals
    with emotional disorders [22].
    Han, in 1986, found that acupuncture at ST 36 Zusanli and SP 6 Sanyinjiao points accelerated the
    synthesis and release of serotonin and norepinephrine in the CNS of mice and rabbits [23].