Did you know acupuncture can be a complementary treatment for depression? Depression is a serious medical illness that can affect every aspect of a person’s life. Typically, ~7-8% of Americans experience depressive symptoms. During COVID, however, that number has dramatically increased. COVID-19 has tripled the rate of depression in US adults in all demographic groups.
Increasing scientific evidence supports acupuncture as a complementary treatment for depression and anxiety. Alongside prescribed medications, acupuncture has been shown to improve symptoms and reduce patient suffering.
Research on Acupuncture for Depression
A researcher at the University of York ran a study with 755 people with moderate or severe depression. Researchers split participants into three groups: one group received 12 weekly acupuncture sessions, another group received weekly counseling sessions and the last group was the control. (The control group did receive standard levels of medical care.)
Researchers used the Patient Health Questionnaire 9 (PHQ-9) to assess the severity of depression. At the start of the study, participants had an average score of 16 on a scale from 0 to 27 (higher scores mean more severe depression).
After three months, people in the acupuncture group had an average score of about 9. People in the counseling group had an average score of 11 and those in the control group had an average of 13.
The patients who received acupuncture received larger improvements over three months than the control group. Those benefits remained for three months after the treatments stopped.
Acupuncture for Depression During Pregnancy
Research suggests that ~10% of pregnant women experience depression during pregnancy. A recent study found that a mother experiencing depression and anxiety before and after birth was moderately linked with her child’s deficits in language and cognitive and motor development in infancy.
If left untreated, depression can pose risks to both mother and baby. However, many women avoid taking medication because of safety concerns. In the research study described below, 94 percent of the depressed women involved were reluctant to take antidepressants.
Stanford researchers recruited 150 women whose pregnancies were between 12 and 30 weeks gestation and who had major depressive disorder. The women received one of three treatments: acupuncture specific for depression; general acupuncture not specific for depression; or massage. All women received eight weeks of therapy.
The researchers found that women who received depression-specific acupuncture experienced a bigger reduction in depression symptoms than the women in the other groups. The response rate — having a 50 percent or greater reduction in symptoms — was 63 percent for the women receiving depression-specific acupuncture, compared with 44 percent for the women in the other two treatment groups combined.
Acupuncture for depression in pregnant women can be an especially useful tool.