top of page

Exploring the Potential of Acupuncture as a Non-Pharmacological Approach for Depression

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

While its exact role in the vast landscape of depression treatment may still be unfolding, acupuncture offers a glimmer of hope to those seeking relief beyond the conventional paths.

Acupuncture for depression

According to the study, an average of 12 acupuncture sessions over the course of three months reduced depression severity by 2.46 points on the PHQ-9 scale.

Introduction. Acupuncture for depression

Depression, a complex mental health condition, casts a long shadow over the lives of millions worldwide. It is not merely a fleeting feeling of sadness; rather, it's a debilitating state that encompasses extreme sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, and a pervasive sense of worthlessness. The repercussions of depression are profound and far-reaching, often leading to a diminished quality of life and even, tragically, suicide. It's crucial to understand the diverse range of treatment options available to alleviate this burden and restore mental well-being. Among these options, acupuncture, an ancient practice rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine, has emerged as an alternative approach to tackling depression.

The Weight of Depression

Depression's significance on a global scale is staggering. Its role as a leading cause of suicide highlights the severity of this condition. The emotional toll aside, depression also contributes significantly to the overall global disease burden. People grappling with depression often experience a loss of interest in activities they once found enjoyable, along with debilitating physical symptoms such as chronic pain, fatigue, and insomnia. It's a multifaceted condition that can severely impede daily functioning.

Convencional Treatments and Their Limitations

Antidepressants have long held the position of being the go-to treatment for depression. However, their effectiveness is far from universal (Kim and Ahn, 2002). Surprisingly, these medications fail to work for over half of the patients who try them. Furthermore, questions have arisen regarding the efficacy of antidepressants, particularly for individuals dealing with mild to moderate depression (Kim and Ahn, 2002). This raises the need for alternative therapies that can provide relief without the potential drawbacks associated with pharmaceutical interventions.

Acupuncture's Emergence as a Viable Alternative

In recent years, a surge of interest in non-pharmacological therapies for depression has led to extensive research into the effectiveness of acupuncture. Acupuncture, a practice rooted in ancient Chinese medicine, involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body. It aims to restore the body's energy flow, or "qi," and promote overall well-being. The potential benefits of acupuncture for depression have captured the attention of both researchers and individuals seeking alternative avenues of treatment.

Exploring the Research: Acupuncture vs. Counselling vs. Standard Care

One study that sheds light on the effectiveness of acupuncture for depression compared it with other therapeutic options. This study, conducted by MacPherson et al. in 2017, recruited 755 patients with moderate to extreme depression from various general medicine practices. The participants were offered up to 12 weekly sessions of either acupuncture or counselling, alongside standard care. All the patients scored more than 20 points on the Beck's Depression Inventory (BDI-II) indicating moderate to extreme depression.

The results were assessed using the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) after the three-month intervention period.

The findings were intriguing. The patients who underwent acupuncture experienced an average reduction in depression scores of -2.46 points compared to the standard care group. The counselling group exhibited similar outcomes. These results indicated that both acupuncture and counselling, when added to usual care, led to statistically significant reductions in depression symptoms.

The Uncertainty of Acupuncture's Effectiveness

While studies like the one by MacPherson et al. (2017) suggest positive outcomes, a comprehensive review of existing research reveals a more nuanced picture. A Cochrane review (Smith et al., 2018) evaluated acupuncture's efficacy for depression based on a meta-analysis of 64 studies involving over 7,000 participants. This review concluded that the effect of acupuncture compared to psychological therapy remains unclear.

The Cochrane review (Smith et al., 2018) also pointed out the limitations of many of the studies it analysed, citing potential biases and methodological shortcomings. Despite the lack of a definitive conclusion, the review acknowledged that both acupuncture and counselling showed a statistically significant reduction in depression symptoms over the short to medium term.

Conclusion: Navigating the Path Forward

Depression's pervasive impact necessitates a multifaceted approach to treatment. While antidepressants play a crucial role in managing this condition, their limitations underscore the need for alternative strategies. Acupuncture, a practice steeped in tradition, is slowly making its mark as a potential solution for individuals seeking relief from depression's grasp.

As research continues to unravel the mysteries of acupuncture's impact on depression, it's vital to approach this ancient practice with an open mind. While the Cochrane review (Smith et al., 2018) suggests uncertainty surrounding its effectiveness, studies like the one by MacPherson et al. (2017) present promising insights. It's important to remember that individual responses to treatment can vary significantly, making it essential for those considering acupuncture to consult with healthcare professionals and make informed decisions.

As we journey toward a deeper understanding of depression and its potential treatments, acupuncture stands as a testament to the power of holistic and integrative approaches to mental health. While its exact role in the vast landscape of depression treatment may still be unfolding, acupuncture offers a glimmer of hope to those seeking relief beyond the conventional paths.


-MacPherson, H., Vickers, A., Bland, J.M., Torgerson, D.J., Corbett, M.S., Spackman, E., Saramago Goncalves, P.R., Woods, B.S., Weatherly, H.L.A., Sculpher, M.J. and Manca, A., 2017. Acupuncture for chronic pain and depression in primary care: a programme of research. Programme Grants for Applied Research, pp.1-342.

-Kim, N.S. and Ahn, W.K., 2002. Clinical psychologists' theory-based representations of mental disorders predict their diagnostic reasoning and memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 131(4), p.451..

-Beck's Depression Inventory (BDI-II)

-Smith, C.A., Armour, M., Lee, M.S., Wang, L.Q. and Hay, P.J., 2018. Acupuncture for depression. Cochrane database of systematic reviews, (3).


Acupuncture Clinic in North West London

Discover the beneficial effects of acupuncture for depression in a clean and hygienic Clinic near you.

Living in London? Book your Acupuncture appointment today!


bottom of page