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Depression, “Common Cold of Mental Health Problem”

Depression, “Common Cold of Mental Health Problem”

                                                                                                                                           —— LAM MAN SZE PHYSICIAN


Depression, or depressive disorder, is a medical condition that affects the behaviour and the attitude of an individual which can affect the quality of life. It can co-exist with other medical conditions and be triggered by different types of stressors such as certain medication intake (e.g. Parkinson’s disease, stroke, sleep disorders, etc), life situations or psychiatric disorders. Depression can be classified as mild, moderate or severe according to the number and types of symptoms present during the episode. The condition and its severity needs to be clinically assessed by a doctor.

The western medicine treatment objectives are through symptomatic control, restore occupational and psychosocial function and to reduce the likelihood of relapse. To achieve such objectives, it can be treated through various means: pharmacotherapy, psychotherapy, psychoeducation and family intervention, electroconvulsive therapy, and combination treatments.



TCM Perspective of Depression



From a TCM perspective, in addition to the stressors, the cause is attributed to the internal damages inflicted by emotions (情志内伤). With the malfunction in the liver’s ability to course and drain the qi flow, this would affect the control of the spleen (in charge of the digestive system) and the support for the nourishment of the heart. The onset of the depressive disorder is usually sthenia syndrome and the qi stagnation. If left untreated, this qi stagnation can lead to blood stasis and eventually affects other organs’ normal function.

Through TCM diagnostics methodology, depression can be differentiated into 8 types of syndromes, sometimes a combination of syndromes. Through acupuncture and TCM medication, the TCM treatment objectives are to soothe the liver qi flow, restore the qi harmony among the organs, improve the individual’s lifestyle and therefore reduce the likelihood of recurrence. Although depression is highly treated, it can be complex and therefore is recommended to approach a TCM physician for treatment. 

Questions and Answers About Treating Depression


Q: I am currently taking western medication to manage my depression. If I were to seek TCM for treatment, do I need to stop my western medication?

A: No, you should not stop the current medication. This is to avoid any side effects of abrupt discontinuation (e.g. anxiety, headache, flu-like symptoms, etc). It can be treated with both western and TCM medication, but to take note that the time gap between these two types of medication intake needs to be 1 to 2 hours. Be it western or TCM medication, it takes time and patience to treat this condition.


Q: How long does it take to treat this condition?

A: It varies according to the severity, the age group and the individual’s support system. Depending on the degree of depression, it can take from three months to even a year or longer.


Q: From the TCM perspective, besides medication, what else can be done?

A: Acupuncture which targets to soothe the liver qi and other supplementary acupuncture points based on syndrome differentiation. Besides clinical treatment, exercises such as yoga and meditative walking can help in soothing the liver qi. A good support system (e.g. family and friends) is essential in helping the individual. It is usually recommended to take a multi-pronged approach.

In 2016, the Mental Health Literacy Study was completed by the Institute of Mental Health and it indicated that there was a considerable stigma towards individuals with mental health conditions, which could delay treatment. However, such social stigma can be minimised through increasing awareness of depression among the community.


For support, you can visit the following:

  • - HealthLine (Health Promotion Board's toll-free health information service line 1800 223 1313)
  • - Polyclinics and Hospitals
  • - Institute of Mental Health