The acupuncture point Qimen, translated as ‘Gate of Hope’, is an example of an acupuncture point that may be especially useful for people with depression. However, depression – a state of persistent and severe low mood – is associated with many different causes and emotions. Chinese medicine does not have a category of ‘depression’ because it requires me to understand and treat the underlying patterns and emotional upsets on an individual basis. This individual approach of acupuncture is often very effective, and can, if necessary, be used alongside antidepressant medication.
Depression may follow the heartbreak, rejection and loneliness felt when an important relationship breaks down. It may be part of the weary frustration and hopelessness that can result from repeated disappointments, setbacks and failed plans. It may be part of the grief that follows the death of a close relative or friend; the loss of a home or job, or the shattering of future dreams and plans. It may be part of a severe anxiety state which makes life feel too difficult to bear. Or it may be the result of physical illness, especially severe anaemia. Each of these examples will require a different acupuncture treatment plan, which will become more personalised and refined as treatment proceeds.
A 50 year old patient, who I will call Jill, is an example of how I might treat someone with depression. She came for treatment after suffering a small stroke. She walked unsteadily and her hand was weak, but most importantly her spirits were very low. She cried a lot, had daydreams of death and dying, and was very tired. This depression required acupuncture treatment on several levels. I needed to treat her grief and morbid thoughts, which related to the loss of her former healthy self. This required me to treat her Metal element and included such points as Cloud Gate (Yun Men). The name suggests it helps to open a gate through the grey clouds to find inspiration and light from above. I also needed to relieve some of her frustration and irritation caused by her partial loss of independence and mobility. This required me to regulate her Wood element in order to get her Qi to move freely round her body and mind. I included points such as Root of the Spirit (Ben Shen), which roots the Qi and stops it from rising up to make someone feel irritated and ‘hot under the collar’. At a more basic physical level her stroke and medication had weakened her Qi and Blood generally, so strengthening them would help everything else to improve. After four treatments, her depression began to shift and hope started to return. Then I could add some acupuncture points to help strengthen her leg and hand muscles – to work alongside the exercise she was doing. Improvement was slow, but once hope returned than her life could begin to improve.
Often, the cause of the depression is less clear cut. But by improving the circulation of Qi and Blood and strengthening the person’s constitution there is a shift from the dark stuck place of depression to one where life’s problems become clearer and more open to change. Chinese medicine is especially useful at helping someone at the mental and spiritual level. Treatment at the level of the spirit, aims to help you (re)find your authentic self and the pathway to your natural place in the world. Here you can begin to find ways to fulfil your own potential. Depression is all about feeling stuck and sinking. Each of us has our own unique way forward, which we can explore step by step. Acupuncture is a good way to start taking those first steps.