UA researchers combat depression with ancient Chinese treatments
Arizona Summer Wildcat
Attending the University of Arizona in the summertime is enough to make anyone a little depressed.
Monsoon storms and summer school may have students feeling down, but UA researchers are looking into innovative ways to beat the summertime blues.
And an ancient Chinese healing practice may be the answer.
UA associate psychology professor John Allen is heading a study to determine if acupuncture is an effective treatment for depression.
"Chinese medicine sets the framework for different symptoms," Allen said. "There is no term of depression in Chinese medicine. There are just different patterns of disharmony."
The practice of piercing the skin in strategic areas with thin needles to harmonize the body is an ancient technique that attempts to cure illness and relieve pain.
The result is a human pin cushion - and possibly a happier life.
The procedure does not appear to have many disturbing side effects, Allen said. In a previous acupuncture study, only two of 38 women complained of pain.
"(The needles) are much, much finer - so fine, they're almost flexible," Allen said.
Allen collaborates with an acupuncturist, research specialist Rosa Schnyer, in the 150-person study. Only 60 people are currently involved.
Allen said the department has funds for a five-year study, and researchers will continue recruiting until they have a total of 150 participants. The National Institute of Mental Health provided the grant for the current study.
The UA psychology department held a small test study about four years ago using acupuncture to treat depression.
All subjects in the test study were told they received acupuncture for depression, while only half actually did. The remaining subjects were given the treatment for different areas.
The results from the test study showed that the group receiving acupuncture for depression recorded greater responses than those receiving treatment in other areas - allowing the team to pursue a larger project.
UA students who have taken Allen's abnormal psychology class and have a full understanding of mental disorders assist him in screening the potential participants, he said.
If the students feel the subjects are eligible for the study, the participants will have another interview with a more experienced researcher involved in the study, Allen said.
Ken Marsh, director of UA Counseling and Psychological Services, said depression is a common complaint among students.
"It's one of the main things that bring people in here," he said.
Marsh said when students come in with complaints about depression, a counselor will recommend a personal lifestyle change. If the student does not benefit from the change, doctors will prescribe an anti-depressant.
"We're hesitant to throw Prozac at someone when they first walk through the door," Marsh said.
Depression has biological and psychological elements that vary with each person, he said.
Psychological elements of depression often result from a devastating experience, like the end of a relationship or a person failing in school, Marsh said.
Biological depression is not caused by an outside event. Often a person will feel sad or cynical for no apparent reason, he said.
"The 1990s are pretty demanding and sharp-edged," Marsh said.
In a demanding world, many people want to meet high expectations and seek perfection, all of which can lead to depression, he added.