Many of us feel the winter blues, especially after the joys of the festive season. A psychology professor at Cardiff University even suggested that the third Monday of January is the most depressing day of the year, using a formula that he had developed based on six factors: weather, debt, time since Christmas, time since failing our new year’s resolutions, low motivational levels and the feeling of a need to take action [1]. However, even the creator of this formula admits that it should be taken with a pinch of salt: it was developed for an advertising campaign after all!

Other interesting research has been taking place in this country by both the Office of National Statistics (ONS) [2] and the London School of Economics (LSE) who contributed to the World Happiness Project [3]. The ONS has published a “wheel of measures” that contains 41 factors from wealth per household to the amount of exercise we do and satisfaction with our social life. The World Happiness Report uses another six elements: levels of GDP, life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom and corruption. The results are used to rank countries in terms of their calculated ‘happiness’. In the last report, in 2015, the UK came in 21st place, with Switzerland, Iceland and Denmark in the top spots.

GP’s use signs and symptoms as well as questionnaires to identify and monitor the severity of depression. The forms look at how often the patient has had “little interest or pleasure in doing things” in the last 2 weeks and also how often they have been “feeling down, depressed or hopeless” and depending on the answers to these, a further three questions look at “feelings of worthlessness”, “poor concentration” and “thoughts of death”.

One thing we can conclude is that happiness and depression are complex feelings and can be caused by a large variety of components. Aside from the complexity, there are some important reasons for us to find a greater understanding of this condition. The statistics are terrifying around the increase in the prevalence of the condition and based on current rates, it could be the “second most disabling condition in the world by 2020” [4].

Symptoms of depression

The common understanding that depression is a feeling of long-term sadness, doesn’t provide the full picture by any manner of means. Major depressive disorder is a debilitating illness that can cause:

  • Impaired motor skills
  • Problems with memory and attention
  • Neurotoxicity
  • Impaired ability to work, love, play
  • Emotional and physical pain
  • Suicidal thoughts and actions

Depression can easily go undiagnosed for extended periods, meaning that a huge number of people may be suffering, without help or support, at any point in time.

Treatment research

The NICE guidelines  for the treatment of depression [5] were published in 2013, and are due to be updated this year. Currently the guidelines include ensuring that sufferers are aware of local and national support and self-help groups along with what is referred to as “stepped care” meaning that the least intrusive and most effective treatment is tried first and if this doesn’t work, the “next step” will be utilised. Step 1 involves assessment, support, education and possible referral for further interventions like cognitive behavioural therapy. Drug treatment is not recommended due to poor “risk-benefit ratio” unless there is severe depression, it has been long lasting or resistant to other interventions.

“We were never designed for the sedentary, indoor, socially isolated, fast-food-laden, sleep-deprived, frenzied pace of modern life.” Stephan Ilardi

The University of Kansas is working on some research now that suggests that a lot of depression might be caused by a “runaway stress response”. Watch depression researcher Stephen Ilardi’s, TEDx talk on this topic for more details [6]. This suggestion makes a lot of sense considering the patients we see at the Wellhaven Clinic and thus, reducing stress and helping the body to heal from the damage caused may well be a viable treatment approach. Depression is almost non-existent among indigenous tribal groups: Stephen Ilardi suggests that it is a disease of civilisation. He says that “we were never designed for the sedentary, indoor, socially isolated, fast-food-laden, sleep-deprived, frenzied pace of modern life”. This research has shown promising results using six factors for combating depression:

  • Exercise
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Sunlight
  • Healthy sleep
  • Anti-ruminative activity
  • Social connection

The team have created a website which contains further details on all of these points: http://tlc.ku.edu.

Acupuncture and depression

A significant number of studies have found that acupuncture is at least as helpful as drugs in the treatment of depression but the lack of side effects make it an appealing option. It is believed that acupuncture stimulates the nervous system and causes the release of neurochemical messenger molecules which cause a change in the way the body maintains health. Studies have shown that acupuncture has a positive effect on the brain’s mood chemistry [7], [8]. Other studies show that acupuncture may also benefit depression by acting on other neurochemical pathways [9], [10], [11], [12].

Acupuncture has been shown to change the ‘default mode network’ in the brain [13], which is the way that parts of the resting brain interact with each other and has been shown to help with depression [14].

For more information on the research, you can visit the British Acupuncture Council website. Why not give acupuncture a try and see if it can help you?

What’s the point?

There are many points that can be used to treat depression, we’ve picked one of our favourites below:

Lung 9 Very Great Abyss

This point is used for depression, especially when caused by grief or a sense of deprivation.

  • At the base of the thumb within the wrist crease
  • Find the hollow between two tendons