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According to Statistics Canada’s 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) on Mental Health, 5.4% of the Canadian population aged 15 years and over reported symptoms that met the criteria for a mood disorder in the previous 12 months and an estimated 1 in 4 Canadians has a degree of depression serious enough to need treatment at some time in his or her life.Sadness and grief are normal reactions to the ups and downs of life. Often time heals, and our mood improves, however depressive illnesses are different. There is a change in the person – perhaps a loss of interest in regular activities, food or sex, waking early in the morning, or not wanting to get out of bed at all. Without treatment the symptoms can linger for months and sometimes even years.
Depression may come once, twice or many times in a person’s life. Or it may be a chronic, lasting problem. There are three major types
– major depressive disorder, dysthymia and bipolar disorder.
Although different types may have similar symptoms, our treatment and therapeutic approach might be different for each type.
People with major depressive disorder may be constantly sad, hopeless, irritable, and unable to feel pleasure. They may have changes in sleeping and eating habits, and difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly. They often feel guilty and unworthy of love. Some very depressed people might hear imaginary voices confirming their feelings of worthlessness. They start believing bad things about themselves and others, adding to their unhappiness. Some think about dying, or punishing themselves. Some try to kill themselves. This type of depression generally goes away in a few months, especially with proper treatment.
Dysthymia (or depressive neurosis) lasts years at a time. It can be confused with other forms of mental or physical illness that produce chronic distress.
Bipolar depression (once called manic depressive illness) involves cycles of highs and lows. At times there are symptoms of major depressive disorder. At other times, there is mental excitement (mania). There may be little need for sleep, and increased social, sexual, and physical activity. Manic people may feel capable of anything and overlook possible harm.
About 1 in 10 people with a depressive disorder have manic episodes.
What causes depression?
Several factors may be at work, alone or combined.
Some depressions are at least partly inherited. Children, brothers and sisters of depressed people are more likely to suffer from depression themselves. Family environment may also play a role. Children growing up with a depressed person may learn unhealthy ways of handling stress.
Some depressions may be related to abnormal brain or body chemistry or abnormal intestinal flora. Chemical and hormone changes in other parts of the body and some physical ailments can also lead to depression. Change, loss or stress can trigger depression. Losing a loved one, becoming unemployed, having money problems or moving to a new home are common stressors.
What Can Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Do for Depression?
Acupuncture and TCM incorporate thousands of years of experience in treating depression. Not only can they help to alleviate accompanying symptoms of depression but they can also address the underlying imbalances that lead to depression.
There is a strong connection between our mental-emotional and physical state. As we feel emotion, our bodies have a particular physical response and vice versa. If there is a disconnect, blockage or imbalance either between the two or in one or the other, illnesses, such as depression, can occur. The traditional application of acupuncture is used to correct these imbalances, which allow the body to return to its natural state of well-being. Acupuncture for depression is effective, safe, natural and drug free. Like other therapies for depression acupuncture is not a miracle cure, and often requires several and continued treatment for the best results.
Chinese herbal medicine may also be used if necessary. Chinese herbal medicine is a safe and natural alternative or compliment to traditional drug therapy for depression. *Never stop taking your antidepressant medication without the direction of your Medical Doctor.
What Types of Allopathic Treatments Are Available ?
Depression responds better to treatment than many other forms of mental illness. Different treatments may be used alone or together. This depends on the patient’s condition, diagnosis and personal choice.
Drug therapy includes antidepressant drugs and mood stabilizers. Antidepressant drugs seem to correct the chemical imbalances in the brain that produce some forms of depression. Mood stabilizers can prevent the return of depression. But even when they work well, both types of drugs act slowly and can produce side effects.
Electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) is used to relieve severe depression. It is not known why this treatment makes patients feel and act less depressed. Side effects can include disorientation immediately after treatment, headaches and sore, stiff muscles. Some complain of memory loss in the long term. If ECT is recommended, patients should ask questions. If they have any concerns they should seek a second opinion.
Psychotherapy (talk therapy) can help anyone who is depressed. Treatment may include partners and other family members.
Self-help groups can also be a valuable support for depressed people, as well as their families and friends. Any mental health professional can provide the names of groups.
Remember, proper treatment can return a person to a full, productive life.
“The effectiveness and safety of acupuncture therapy in depressive disorders: Systematic review and meta-analysis.” Zhang-Jin Zhang, Hai-Yong Chen, Ka-chee Yip, Roger Ng, Vivian Taam Wong. Journal of Affective Disorders – July 2010 (VOl. 124, Issue 1, Pages 9-21)
Contributed by: Travis McIndoe TCMP - Foremost expert in Acupuncture and traditional chinese medicine.