Depression. How to understand it.

Depression. How to understand it.

What are the signs and symptoms?


Depression can be described as apathy, listlessness, deep sadness and dark thoughts. Physically it can include the loss of appetite and poor sleep. Every part of the sufferer’s life is touched as it also affects those around them and can lead to isolation from family or partners if the condition or how to connect to the sufferer is misunderstood. Depression therefore needs a supportive treatment plan that includes the physical, dietary and sleep cycle components as well as psychological support perhaps in the form of psychotherapy or counselling.



Apart from developmental considerations, depression may result at any time there is a profound loss of energy (after illness, labour, severe blood loss or even just a seasonal exposure to the cold when the body is not able to cope with it), inappropriate diet or drug abuse. It is often (but not always) accompanied with severe fatigue, apathy inability to concentrate and/or perform everyday tasks, aversion to cold, physical weakness, insomnia, anxiety or anger.

What is a Depressive episode?

The nature of a depressive episode depends to some extent on the era during which one experienced their original or greatest life-defeat. Depression is largely a self-help manouevre, a coping mechanism or an expression of ‘being’, alternative to the one that failed in the normal course of growth at some stage in life. At the same time, it is a form of mourning throughout the life cycle for part of the ‘self’, which is spiritually and/or physically struggling from a repression. Chronic depression is one response to the persistent failure of any personality organisation to fulfil its own expectations.

Life, on the other hand, has another agenda. It is perforce a growth process, which despite periodic strategic retreats, is basically expansive. Depressions therefore tend to be short lived.

How can Acupuncture help?

The advantage that acupuncture has is that Chinese medicine is very clear about the interaction of body, mind and spirit, and sees the functions of the organs as operating on all levels. When a patient visits a practitioner, therefore, and describes a complex array of symptoms, physical, mental and emotional, from a Chinese medicine perspective these can often make sense and offer treatment possibilities as a whole, rather than requiring a tablet for every symptom prescribed individually.


My experience of treating depressed patients; is that initially the client rarely recognises the feelings of hopeless despair or hidden resentment and anger that underlie their symptoms, and that at some point in the treatment it is necessary to acknowledge and express these feelings. Biological and social constraints work against the emotional interests; one may withhold their feelings from health practitioners for fear of appearing needy. Attentive and prudent consultation with a tailored acupuncture treatment and nutritional advice allow the patient the tranquillity needed to properly process and transform these discouraging influences. The connection felt with the practitioner enables the patient to feel supported during the process, and if necessary seek additional help from other health professionals.


In general, women are twice as likely as men to seek help for depression. Men are four times as likely to kill themselves, whilst male psychiatric patients outnumber women. The violent crime rate is soaring (for most of this violence men are both the perpetrators and the victims), and men are much more likely to experience addiction disorders, especially substance abuse. As a society we lose productivity and experience higher rates of divorce, one-parent families and violence. This makes depression a public health issue.


Recent research has revealed that men are more likely to recognise feelings of stress rather than depression. Men are likely to avoid people when stressed and are less likely to seek help from doctors. However, the problem may be as well compounded by the clinician’s failure to respond to their perhaps subtle cries for help, because of cultural or social expectations.


Emotions are mental stimuli that influence our affective life. Under normal circumstances, they are not a cause of a disease. Hardly any human being can avoid being sad, worried, afraid or angry sometimes. Emotions become causes of a problem only when they are excessive, prolonged or both. Although emotions are a definite cause of disease, they also have a healthy counterpart. The same mental energy that produces and ‘nurtures’ excessive emotions, can be used and directed towards creative and fulfilling aims. The answer usually lies in an appropriate balance of body and mind, which work in such a conjunction.


By Milan Skamene, Acupunturist and Tui Na Massage Practitioner







Leon Hammer – Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies (Psychology and TCM); Station Hill Press New York; 1990

David J. Kuoch – Acupuncture Desk Reference; Acumedwes Inc. San Francisco; 2009

Joerg Kastner – Dietetics in TCM (Chinese Nutrition Therapy) 2nd edition; Thieme New York; 2009