Treating depression, anxiety and insomnia with Chinese medicine


Guest post by Kath Bartlett, LAc, licensed acupuncturist and Board Certified in Oriental Medicine, NCCAOM

Kath at desk + herbs JPEG

Everyone wants to be happy and avoid suffering and pain. Our body’s nervous system hardwires us to pursue this attainment. So when anxiety, depression, stress or insomnia affect us, we understandably seek relief from our afflictions. Western medicine offers drug and talk therapy for these conditions. Working with a trained professional is helpful to identify and work with the cause of our mental unrest, but many do not wish to go this route. More and more I hear from patients that they don’t want to take pharmaceuticals, due to the side effects and long-term nature of the therapy. Many depression and anxiety drugs are difficult to get off of once started.

Chinese Medicine has effectively treated mood disorders for over 2,000 years

Chinese medicine offers a different approach to treating shen disorders. Shen is the Chinese word referring to the concept of the mind-spirit. Traditional Chinese medicine has a long history of treating shen, or mood disorders, dating back to a widely used Han dynasty in China (206 BC–220 AD) formula called Rambling Powder. Rambling Powder promotes a free and easy, rambling spirit for those who feel tense, uptight, angry and irritable. This formula remains one of the most widely used and popular herbal formulas today, as westerner’s lives are stressful. In fact, I use a variation of this ancient prescription as my go-to formula for insomnia, as it is highly effective.

How Acupuncture treats depression, anxiety & insomnia

With Chinese medicine, we use a combination of acupuncture and herbal therapy to effectively treat mood disorders. Acupuncture induces a deep, relaxed state, which is quite helpful for those who are tense and stressed. Studies show acupuncture releases endorphins in the brain, which lift the mood and are responsible for giving runners their high.

How do Chinese herbs treat emotional problems?

Chinese herbal therapy is used instead of drugs to treat mood disorders. Traditional Chinese herbalists often create customized formulas that address the nuances of each patient’s individual condition. Certain herbs have the ability to calm the mind (wheat does this). Heavy medicinals, such as shells (abalone and oyster), settle the shen and are useful for treating anxiety and insomnia and panic attacks. These herbs are combined with others that address the underlying problem causing the symptoms.

Can Chinese medicine help me to stop taking drugs?

For those who are on medications, Chinese medicine can effectively treat the mood issue so that you can stop taking the drugs. I have reduced and eliminated prescription drugs for many patients in my clinic who have uncomplicated depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia. For mild conditions, reducing and eliminating drugs is generally easy to do under a physician’s or pharmacist’s guidance. For more serious shen conditions, such as bi-polar disorder, working with your psychiatrist is required to safely decrease the dosage of your medication.

How long will I need to come for treatment?

The length of treatment really depends on the patient and the severity of the problem. In Chinese medicine, we think in terms of courses of treatment — one course is generally 10-12 acupuncture treatments or weeks of herbal medicine. Shen conditions usually take more than one course of treatment to resolve. I usually recommend beginning with weekly acupuncture treatments. As the patient begins feeling better, acupuncture can be reduced to 10-day intervals and later bi-weekly treatments, while any herbs are continued. The chronicity and severity of the condition will determine the length of treatment. Mild, short-terms problems respond sooner and more entrenched, long-term issues take longer to resolve.

Given time, emotional problems do respond well to Chinese medicine. I have seen many cases of depression, anxiety and insomnia become symptom-free with Chinese medical treatment.

About the author

Kath Bartlett, LAc, is a licensed acupuncturist and traditional Chinese herbalist, board certified in Oriental medicine, NCCAOM. She practices at Bartlett Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine in Scarborough. You can also connect with her on Facebook.

Message from Diane

Have you ever been treated with acupuncture and/or Chinese medicine to alleviate depression, anxiety or insomnia? What was your experience like?

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. Now she writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.