Understanding depression from a TCM perspective

Major depressive disorder, or depression, is a common mental disorder that is sadly not taken as seriously as other chronic conditions. Untreated depression can lead to a variety of emotional and physical issues which affect normal daily life. 

 

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has historically been used to treat depression up till today, particularly in Asia. Western medicine typically uses medication and therapy to tackle depression, while TCM adopts a more holistic approach.

 

Read on to understand more about depression from a TCM perspective and some tips to help ease depression.

What is depression?

Depression is a common mental disorder that causes persistent sadness and a lack of interest or pleasure in previously rewarding or enjoyable activities.

 

Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe ones. These symptoms must last at least 2 weeks and must represent a contrast with previous levels of functioning in order to be diagnosed as having depression.

Common symptoms:

Depression is a complex disease, the direct cause of it is still unknown. Possible causes include chemical imbalance in the brain, changes in hormone levels, family history, trauma, certain medical conditions and more.

 

Depression can occur at any time, but it is more prevalent in late teens to mid-20s. According to studies, women are more likely than men to experience depression.

Depression from a TCM perspective

From a TCM point of view, depression is viewed as a stagnation syndrome. In general, stagnation syndrome can be caused due to stagnation in Qi, Blood, Heat, Food, Dampness etc. In the case of depression, it is commonly known to be caused due to Liver-Qi stagnation. Heart and Spleen deficiency can also lead to depression as well.

What is the relation of Liver, Heart and Spleen to depression?

How can TCM help?

In regards to depression, the main cause in TCM’s view is due to stagnation of Liver Qi. Thus, in treating depression, the main method is to relieve Liver Qi stagnation and improve regulation of the Qi in the body. This can be coupled with nourishing the Heart Blood, Heart Yin and strengthening Spleen health to better help with depression.

Acupressure

百会 Bai Hui, DU20:
Located at the crown of the head when you rest the tips of your thumbs at the uppermost point of your ears and reach your middle fingers up to touch one another. After locating, use your thumb to apply pressure and massage the area for 3-5mins. This helps to clear the mind and calm the ‘Shen’

印堂 Yin Tang, EX-HN3:
Located between the inner edges of the eyebrow, also known as the ‘third eye’ are of the forehead.  After locating, use the tip of your middle finger to apply pressure and massage the area for 2-3mins. This helps to calm and settle the mind.

 

神门 Shen Men, HT7:
Located on the crease of your inner wrist towards the ulnar side. After locating, use your thumb to apply pressure and massage the area for 3-5mins. This helps to calm the mind and nourishes the Heart’s Blood and Qi. 

内关 Nei Guan, P6:
Located 3 fingers’ widths below your wrist crease. After locating, use your thumb to apply pressure and massage the area for 3-5mins. Being an acupoint located on the pericardial meridian, it helps to nourish the Heart and calms the mind.

太冲 Tai Chong, LR3:
Located on your foot about two finger widths above the webbing between your big toe and the next toe. After locating, use your thumb to apply pressure and massage the area for 3-5mins. This can help to regulate Liver Qi, removes stagnation and clears Liver Fire.

膻中 Dan Zhong, CV17:
Located leveled to the 4th intercostal space or at the midpoint between the nipples. After locating, use the tip of your middle finger to apply pressure and massage the area for 2-3mins. It helps to regulate Qi, preventing stagnation and is also able to help relieve stress.

Food remedy

Many research studies have identified a connection between the gut and the brain. Thus, having a good and balanced diet can lead to a healthy mind and helps with depression. This is also in tandem with TCM’s view on eating a healthy and balanced diet to improve and maintain good health.

Can be consumed daily and is suitable for all ages.

Ingredients: (for 1-2pax)

Lotus seed (莲子, Lian Zi) 15g
Dried longan meat (龙眼肉,Long Yan Rou) 15g
Dried lily bulb (百合, Bai He) 15g
Chinese yam (山药, Shan Yao) 15g
Dried Albizia julibrissin (合欢花, He Huan Hua) 15g
Rice 150g or 1 cup

Instructions:
1. Rinse all the ingredients with water.

2. Add about 8-9 cups of water to the rice and add in the rest of the ingredients.

3. Bring porridge to boil and enjoy.

Tea

These tea recipes can help to regulate Qi and relieve stress. Consume the tea twice a week.

Ingredients: 

White chrysanthemum (白菊, Bai Ju) 5g
Dried rose buds (月季花, Yue Ji Hua) 5g
Mint leaf (薄荷, Bo He) 5g
Red dates (红枣, Hong Zao) 5g

These tea recipes can help to regulate Qi and relieve stress. Consume the tea twice a week.

Ingredients: 

Red dates (红枣, Hong Zao) 5g
Blighted wheat (浮小麦, Fu Xiao Mai) 10g
Licorice (甘草, Gan Cao) 3g

Instructions:

1. Place the ingredients in a tea bag.

2. Add boiling water and let it steep for 5-10 minutes.

Exercise

Regular exercise may help to ease depression by releasing feel-good endorphins and other natural brain chemicals that can enhance well-being. 

 

Five Animal Play (五禽戏, Wu Qin Xi) 

It is a form of Qi Gong/Gong Fu that was created by Hua Tou, featuring animal mimicry. The five animals featured are the tiger, deer, bear, monkey and crane. According to TCM theory of ‘Five Elements’, each animal has two exercises corresponding to the Yin and Yang internal organs. Regular practice of this QiGong enables one to strengthen and improve functions of the organs, enhancing one’s body and mind.

Baduanjing (八段锦)

Another form of QiGong that was created as a form of medical qigong, meant to improve health. Generally, there are eight different movements in this exercise. These movements each focus on a different physical area and Qi meridian. Regular practice can help to strengthen the body and improve meridian flow which brings beneficial effects to the body.

Rest

A good rest is essential for both physical and mental well-being. TCM recommends sleeping by 11pm, to let your body rest, let the Liver remove toxins, and to recuperate Blood.

TCM treatments

If the above remedies do not work, it is advisable to visit a physician to have a more in-depth understanding and professional help. TCM treatments like acupuncture, cupping, ear seeding or herbal medication may be useful to help reduce stress and balance the body, improving one’s mood.

As there is no “one size fits all” treatment plan, a consultation with a physician is recommended to more accurately diagnose your body condition and suggest treatment options customised for you.

Note: Information provided is not a substitute for a physician or any form of medical care. Individual symptoms differ due to different body constitutions and diagnosis. One should consult a licensed TCM practitioner for accurate diagnosis and treatment.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Physician Beatrice Ng

Physician/ Management Trainee

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