People who have depression report a lack of interest in life and activities which they otherwise normally enjoy. These feelings last longer than a few days and can be accompanied by other symptoms including weight loss, over-eating, feelings of uselessness, sleep disturbance, self neglect and social withdrawal, insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much), loss of energy, low self esteem and poor concentration. One in four of us will experience some kind of mental health problem every year, and depression is more common than we might realise.

Can acupuncture help?

Chinese medicine has been used for centuries to treat mental and emotional problems, it’s holistic approach can help with many of the varied problems depression brings. For example this is what David says about acupuncture treatment for his depression.

Above all, acupuncture has helped me with my physical vitality. Previously my depression had led to my early retirement on health grounds from the civil service. Had I had access to acupuncture at that time, I believe I would have gained another two to three years of working life. Acupuncture has not cured my depression in itself, but its assistance in dealing with the low vitality, which has been the worst symptom of my depression, has been invaluable.

David, 64

Other acupuncture patients report an increased sense of well-being with acupuncture, particularly an improved sense of wellness, feeling better able to cope, an improved sense of self-efficacy and a sense of individual empowerment (Cassidy C.M. 1997).

I treated a number of patients in a recent large trial of acupuncture for depression, and found that acupuncture’s effectiveness in treating symptoms such as chronic pain, insomnia, tiredness etc could make a big difference to people’s depression. For example, a patient who was depressed because they were in constant pain and found getting out and about difficult because of osteoarthritis of the knee, could really feel better about everything once their knees were less painful and more mobile.

Acupuncture works well alongside other treatments for depression, so if you are taking medication and/or receiving counselling, you can find increased benefits from a combination of interventions.

The Research

The trial I have been involved in recently is the UK’s largest clinical trial studying acupuncture treatment for depression. The ACUDep trial, based at the University of York, has explored the effect of Acupuncture, Counselling and Usual care as a treatment for moderate to severe depression. The trial involved 755 patients, of whom 266 received acupuncture. This trial is currently being reviewed for publication, so I can’t tell you the results yet! However, working with patients in this trial has given me a great deal of experience treating depression. As the acupuncture consultant for the trial, I worked alongside the counselling consultant and with the research team.

Until the ACUDep trial is published, the current evidence for acupuncture is reviewed in a briefing paper (2002) from the Acupuncture Research Resource Centre***(ARRC). This review, which aims to provide a transparent, critical evaluation of the key papers in the literature, found that

‘acupuncture could play a significant role in the treatment for depression and anxiety’

If you’d like to try acupuncture for your depression, please contact us and make an appointment. To find out what happens at your first appointment, or hear how other people have found receiving acupuncture, just click the links.

If you’re not sure if you have depression, try this tool from NHS Choices to assess yourself.

content provided by NHS Choices


Cassidy CM, Emad M. What patients say about Chinese medicine (in) Contemporary Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture. (1997) Churchill Livingstone