Depression is one of the most common complaints that we see clinically. We treat this condition approximately 40 times a day with excellent results. Does the Chinese Medical approach replace Western drugs? The short answer is, in most cases, yes. What is depression and what are its characteristics?
This is something we need to explore before we talk about treatment. So let’s get started. Here are some basic facts about the syndrome known as depression:
- A depressive disorder is a syndrome (group of symptoms) that reflects a sad and/or irritable mood exceeding normal sadness or grief. More specifically, the sadness of depression is characterized by a greater intensity and duration and by more severe symptoms and functional disabilities than is normal.
Depressive signs and symptoms are characterized not only by negative thoughts, moods, and behaviors, but also by specific changes in bodily functions (for example, crying spells, body aches, low energy or libido, as well as problems with eating, weight, or sleeping). The functional changes of clinical depression are often called neurovegetative signs. This means that the nervous system (in the brain) changes and causes many physical symptoms that result in diminished participation and a decreased or increased activity level.
Certain people with depressive disorders, especially bipolar depression (manic depression), seem to have an inherited vulnerability to this condition. Depressive disorders are a huge public-health problem, affecting 40 million adults in the United States aged 18 and over.
The statistics on the costs due to depression in the United States are huge. Currently the annual cost of depression to society in the U.S. alone has been estimated at 210 billion dollars, according to Scientific American. There are direct costs (costs which are for treatment), and indirect costs (such as lost productivity and absenteeism from work or school).
Adolescents who suffer from depression are at risk for developing and maintaining obesity. In a major medical study, depression caused significant problems in the functioning of those people affected more often than did arthritis, hypertension, chronic lung disease, diabetes, and in some ways as often as coronary artery disease.
Depression can increase the risks for developing coronary artery disease, asthma, and many other illnesses. Furthermore, it can increase the morbidity (illness/negative health effects) and mortality (death) from these and many other medical conditions.
Depression can co-exist with virtually every other mental health illness, aggravating the status of those who suffer from the combination of both depression and other mental illnesses.
Depression in the elderly tends to be chronic, has a low rate of recovery, and is often under-treated. This is of particular concern given that elderly men, particularly elderly white men, have the highest suicide rate.
Depression is usually first identified in a primary-care setting, not in a mental health practitioner’s office. Moreover, it often assumes various disguises, which causes depression to be frequently under-diagnosed.
In spite of clear research, evidence, and clinical guidelines regarding therapy, depression is often under-treated. According to Western Medicine, for full recovery from a mood disorder, regardless of whether there is a precipitating factor or it seems to come out of the blue, treatment with medication and/or electroconvulsive therapy and psychotherapy are considered necessary.
In Chinese Medicine depression generally has two causes. Either the patient is simply chronically tired or blood flow through the portal vein of the liver is sluggish or impeded. Tiredness can have several sources. The patient can have a low thyroid function, they can have a diminished blood flow through the heart due to a murmur, they can have a low grade underlying infection that has been untreated, or they can be anaemic. An expert at Chinese Pulse Diagnosis can quickly discover what the underlying etiology of the depression is and treat it effectively.
The best modality of treatment is with Chinese herbs. Acupuncture can help but the herbs are essential. In Chinese Medicine we do not believe that some form of mental dysfunction or a chemical imbalance in the brain causes depression. Clinical outcomes are so good using the above etiologies of Chinese Medicine that some patients find they no longer need to take their pharmaceutical drugs.
From a Chinese Medical point of view the most common cause of depression is due to poor blood circulation through the liver. There is a strong correlation between those patients who have depression and those who have the Western disease known as Fatty Liver. Chinese herbal medicine is very good at treating Fatty Liver and therefore very good at treating depression.
The other most common cause of depression is chronic tiredness, mostly due to a weak heart. Chinese herbal medicine is capable of treating what we call Heart Qi Deficiency and the result is a significant improvement in the patient’s depression.
Oddly enough, Western Medicine has never really considered depression to have its source in an organ dysfunction. All research and drug treatments are directed at brain chemistry. Chinese Medicine offers a unique insight into treatment and points to entirely different sources of the disease.
The problem with the pharmaceutical approach is that depression is managed but never cured. In addition, most of the depression drugs are toxic to the liver. This very often complicates the problem even further, especially if it is liver function which is the source of the depression in the first place.
To be fair and balanced I have treated many cases of severe depression unsuccessfully. In these cases the pharmaceutical drugs worked better than the Chinese approach. It is for this reason why a balanced approach works better. A balanced approach simply means using both Chinese and Western Medicine together to treat the problem. If the patient absolutely needs their drugs they will find that adding the Chinese herbs to the treatment may reduce the amount of drugs needed and keep the patient from, quite frankly, feeling drugged for the rest of their lives. Anything that can reduce the dependency of pharmaceuticals is a good thing.