Wed | Jan 23, 2019

Depression - A Chinese medicine approach

Published:Wednesday | January 7, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Tracey-Ann Brown, Complementary & Oriental Medicine

Depression (also called major depression) is a mood disorder characterised by a persistent feeling of sadness and a loss of interest in regular activities. It affects how you think, feel and behave, making it difficult to get through day-to-day activities. It's not something you can simply 'snap out of' and may require treatment.

Symptoms may include:

Feelings of sadness, unhappiness, emptiness, irritability, agitation, anxiety
Lack of energy and vitality
Angry outbursts
Excessive worrying
Sleep disturbances, whether difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or sleeping too much
Appetite changes, increased or decreased
Trouble concentrating, thinking and making decisions
Focusing on past failures
Poor memory
Suicidal thoughts
Excessive feelings of guilt and worthlessness
Loss of interest or enjoyment in normal activities
Slowed/sluggish thoughts, speech or movement.

Traditional Chinese Medicine offers a number of approaches in managing depression. Treatments are created to:

Calm and settle the shen/spirit
Reduce anxiety, irritability and restlessness
Clear thoughts
Restore healthy sleep patterns
Improve energy and a general sense of vitality
Lift the mood and general feelings of sadness.

In some cases, traditional Chinese medicine protocols are used in conjunction with other types of treatment plans.

Herbal Formulas

Herbal formulas are prepared using a combination of several herbs. Powdered shells and minerals are commonly used to relieve depression and to calm and relieve anxiety, irritability, agitation, restore normal sleep patterns, improve concentration and forgetfulness. These include:


Suan zao ren (sour jujube seed)
Fu Ling (Poria mushroom)
He huan pi (Mimosa tree bark or 'collective happiness bark')


Mu li (oyster shell)
Zhen zhu mu (mother of pearl)


Hu po (amber)
Dai zhe shi (hematite)

The above calming herbs, shells and minerals are divided into two categories:

Substances that anchor, settle and calm the spirit: these substances have a tranquilising effect and are primarily used in cases of extreme agitation and anger.
Herbs that nourish the heart and calm the spirit: these herbs are milder in character than the previous category and help to counter general feelings of sadness.

In preparing herbal prescriptions, herbs may also be added to address other accompanying health issues in order to achieve an optimal feeling of well-being. For example, if depression is accompanied by digestive problems or body aches, then a formula would be prepared to address these issues simultaneously.


Acupuncture is also administered alongside herbal remedies to address the symptoms of depression. Thin needles are inserted at acupuncture points selected from more than 1,000 points on the body and gently stimulated. Primary points used are:

Sishencong: improves memory, mental function, concentration
Ear Shen Men: notably calms agitation and irritability
Yin Tang: especially enhances focus, concentration, memory and insomnia.

Lifestyle Recommendations

Eat healthy, get regular exercise and sleep.
Learn ways to relax and manage stress. Incorporate daily practices that calm and nurture the spirit, such as prayer, meditation and other relaxing practices.
Counselling, psychotherapy, support groups are sometimes necessary.
Avoid isolating yourself as much as possible. Try to participate in social activities, and get together with family or friends regularly.
Avoid alcohol.

Dr Tracey-Ann Brown is an oriental medicine practitioner of acupuncture and herbal medicine, and adjunct lecturer at the University of Technology in oriental/chinese medicine. email:;