Patients eager for non-drug options for treating depression may benefit from adding acupuncture to their counseling, according to a new study.
As effective as antidepressant medications are, in some studies up to 60% of patients don’t report adequate relief of their mood symptoms, and another 30% stop taking their drugs as prescribed. So researchers from the University of York in the UK compared the effects of adding either acupuncture or counseling to usual primary care monitoring for depression that included treatment with antidepressants. Among more than 750 patients who had discussed depressive symptoms with their primary care physicians in the past five years, one group were provided with 12 weekly acupuncture sessions on top of their usual care, while another group received 12 weekly sessions of counseling combined with their usual care, and the remainder continued with their existing care.
During the first three months of the study, both the acupuncture and counseling groups showed a greater reduction in depression symptoms compared to the patients only receiving usual care. However, as the study went on, there were no noticeable differences between the three forms of care at nine and 12 months.
That suggests that antidepressant treatments may take time to balance mood, and that acupuncture and counseling may need to continue for extended periods of time to counter depressive symptoms. So for the short term, as the medications start to rebalance mood, adding the non-drug therapies may help patients feel better sooner than they would on the drugs alone.
The study is published in the journal PLOS Medicine.