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Mental health crisis for children: can acupuncture help?

Updated: Dec 31, 2021

Having two children makes me alert to news like this. But regardless of whether you have children or not, these young people are our future generations and it is really difficult to hear about the mental health crisis that they are facing.

The BBC has just reported that young people were waiting upwards of 12 weeks for assessment and help when it came to their mental health and the Guardian writes that children are being offered antidepressants in record numbers.

Today's post is going to look at:

I hope you find this useful, but as always if you have any questions or queries please always feel free to send me a message.

Love from Andrea


Children's mental health

Young Minds, a charity whose mission is to support young people and their mental health reports that:

  • 1 in 6 children aged between 5 and 16 was identified as having a mental health condition in 2020

  • Less than 1 in 3 get access to NHS support and treatment

  • 80% of young people with mental health conditions agreed that COVID-19 had made their condition worse

And these conditions can see children through to their adulthood. This is why support is so fundamentally important.

Currently, the NICE recommendation for escalation when a child experiences a mental health condition is:

Mild depression

  • Watchful waiting for 2 weeks

  • Digital cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)/group CBT/group non-directive supportive therapy (NDST)/group interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT).

Moderate to severe depression

5 to 11 years old

  • family-based IPT/family therapy/psychodynamic psychotherapy/individual CBT

12 to 18 years old

  • individual CBT/IPT-A (IPT for adolescents)/family therapy /brief psychosocial intervention/psychodynamic psychotherapy

  • Following multidisciplinary review, offer fluoxetine (antidepressant)

Psychotic depression

  • Intensive psychological therapy

  • +/– fluoxetine, sertraline, citalopram, augmentation with an antipsychotic

It should be noted that disability, rural locations, waiting times/lack of mental health resources and family chaos may preclude children even making it to any of these scenarios.

In 2015 the government introduced 'Future in Mind' tried to address the growing problem and transform the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and most recently is offering 'Every Mind Matters' with self-care videos for young people.

The closest CAMHS service I could find to a Letchworth postcode was in Aylesbury, 27 miles away.

If you are a parent concerned about your child, there are some tips on Every Mind Matters and also Young Minds.


Acupuncture for anxiety or depression

As with every other condition, anxiety and depression, are not a 'one size fits all' in acupuncture.

My anxiety or depression may manifest in a completely different way to yours. So the most important thing is for your acupuncturist to understand YOUR signs and symptoms.

In an initial acupuncture appointment, we talk thoroughly about your anxiety or depression and how that shows up for you. If a young person is younger than 16 this would be in the presence of a legal guardian. We will also talk about diet, lifestyle, sleep, any pain, gynaecology (if appropriate) and also toilet habits. All of this builds a picture for your acupuncturist and allows us to diagnose and provide the correct treatment.

Acupuncture for anxiety

Acupuncture for anxiety
Acupuncture for anxiety

I have written a comprehensive blog post here, all about anxiety and acupuncture including useful acupressure points (plus see below), dietary changes, according to Chinese medicine principles, but also current dietary advice from Tim Spector (most notably working on the COVID study). I also give alternatives, other than acupuncture, such as yoga and breathwork.

Acupuncture for anxiety
Acupuncture for anxiety

As with most biomedicine conditions, the label is not particularly useful to an acupuncturist. We want to see how your anxiety presents itself. Do any of these resonate? And it doesn't just have to be one. You can feel that two or more are applicable.

Heart: anxiety will appear as flustered, haunted, restless, fidgety

Lungs: anxiety will appear often about spiritual matters, the meaning of life and existential suffering

Kidneys: the person will fear the worst in any situation. deeply pessimistic and often due to guilt

Spleen: anxiety may be around being overprotective, ignoring own needs

Liver: anxiety derives from the high standards they set themselves and is related to not achieving what they wanted to

Below, you will see acupressure points that you can apply to yourself outside of treatment to help with moments of anxiety.

Evidence suggests that acupuncture

is moderately effective in treating anxiety according to high level evidence. Their evidence included a 2016 systematic review with over 400 randomised patients that concluded that ‘the effects from acupuncture for treating anxiety have been shown to be significant as compared to conventional treatments.’ The largest of these studies, which included 120 randomized patients, found that acupuncture had a large effect on reducing anxiety and depression compared to conventional treatment involving pharmacological approaches and psychotherapy, with over twice the reduction in symptoms

Acupuncture for depression

Depression, according to acupuncture, stems from a disharmony of the Liver. When the Liver is not able to function correctly, depression may occur.

The same with anxiety, there can be many different manifestations of depression. And what is most important is YOUR signs and symptoms.

Below you will see the twelve patterns which we associate with depression in acupuncture. Again, do any of these resonate? It can be more than one.

  • Liver Qi stagnation: Depression, moodiness, irritability

  • Liver Qi stagnation with heat: Depression, irritability, red tongue

  • Heart blood stasis: Depression, agitation, purple tongue

  • Gall bladder heat: Depression, irritability, bitter taste, hypochondrial fullness

  • Liver Qi stagnation with phlegm: Depression, moodiness, feeling of lump in throat

  • Diaphram heat: Depression, anxiety, feeling of stuffiness in the chest (following wind-heat invasion)

  • Phlegm fire harassing the heart: Depression, anxiety, agitation, expectoration of phlegm, swollen tongue

  • Spleen & heart blood deficiency: Depression, insomnia, palpitations, tiredness

  • Heart yang deficiency: Depression, palpitations, cold hands

  • Liver blood deficiency: Depression, lack of sense of direction, sadness

  • Kidney & Heart yin deficiency with empty heat: Depression, anxiety, night sweating, palpitations, red tongue without coat

  • Kidney Yang deficiency: Depression, lack of motivation, lack of will-power, feeling cold, frequent urination


Some guidance for help according to your acupuncturist

Below I have added some acupuncture points which you can apply pressure to, for helping with signs and symptoms of anxiety. I am currently creating videos which will also allow me to demonstrate where the points are. In the meantime if there is a specific point you would like to know about please message me, and I would be happy to show you.

Chinese medicine dietary advice

Depending on your signs and symptoms and diagnosis, your acupuncturist may recommend foods which you need to eliminate, reduce or introduce.

This is such a huge topic, but you can find a start to this on my blog post here. I know, from having children though, this can be a particularly difficult challenge, but your acupuncturist could help with suggestions.

For depression, one of the key things to note is this quote taken from Spoon Fed (author Tim Spector)

"if you have mood or behavioural changes, changing your microbes via your diet should be a priority.natural probiotics in the form of fermented foods like cheese, yoghurt and kefir (and kimchi and kombucha) are likely to be beneficial"

This is particularly interesting to an acupuncturist as the taste of the Liver (where the root of depression often lies) are sour foods such as kimchi, and kombucha.


Finding an acupuncturist

If you would like to explore acupuncture for depression or anxiety, you can go to the British Acupuncture Council website to search for an acupuncturist near you.

You can be assured that an acupuncturist, part of this regulatory body, has the appropriate:

  • 3 year degree level qualifications

  • is licensed and insured to practice

  • is aware of red flags and referral

I cannot say that acupuncture has zero side effects. Occassionaly there is a reaction. So you are clear on any of the risks associated with acupuncture I have written a really thorough blog post here which examines the:

  • likelihood of a side effect

  • what those side effects may be

  • it also looks at the side effects of antidepressants as an opportunity to gauge the level of risk

If you are specifically looking for a paediatric acupuncturist, you can search here. I am planning to start my paediatric training with Rebecca Avern in March 2022.

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