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Depression affects 15 percent of American adults and 20 percent of U.S. teens. While most teens experience bouts of angst just because they are in a highly transitional phase of development, many are diagnosed with clinical depression. Knowing how best to treat depression in teens is an issue of national concern.

While there are many symptoms associated with depression in teens, common ones include tiredness or fatigue, a lack of interest in regular activities, changes in appetite, sleeping problems and persistent sadness. Treating these symptoms with antidepressant medications may be called for in some cases, and goodness knows there are a lot of options. It’s hard to sit through an evening of TV viewing without seeing at least one antidepressant advertisement.

But medications carry a significant amount of risk for younger patients, including risk of suicide. Acupuncture is a less-publicized but highly effective alternative.

According to ancient Chinese medicine, the human body has over 2,000 acupuncture points along pathways called meridians which conduct energy, or “qi.” These points connect to a dozen major meridians and eight lesser meridians. The aim of acupuncture is to re-establish a smooth flow of energy and help the body to restore mood and spiritual balance, as well as physical and mental well-being.

Western medicine has verified that acupuncture adjusts brain chemistry by influencing the behavior of neurohormones and neurotransmitters, and the National Institutes of Health have clearly demonstrated that it reduces depression symptoms, particularly with youth depression. Essentially, acupuncture stimulates a release of endorphins, the feel good chemicals secreted by the brain, helping to calm patients and elevate mood. This can benefit teens that may have anxiety or stress-induced depression and can be a low-risk, low cost alternative to pharmaceutical remedies.

One reason acupuncture is so helpful to teens is that they are often otherwise quite healthy, apart from their depression. Acupuncture is most effective for those in good physical health because the pathways and organs are undamaged by long years of illness. Teens are in a phase of physical and emotional transition and part of the angst of youth has to do with the many changes taking place all at once.

It should be no surprise then that a treatment which re-establishes body chemistry would be especially beneficial. Young bodies change and adapt more readily so that once energy flow is normalized, they can accept and maintain that body chemistry more easily than an older person.

Parents who are concerned about their teen’s depression, but who are equally concerned about giving them very serious medication, can at least investigate and consider acupuncture as an alternative therapy as it’s been proven effective under the investigative eye of our own national health organizations. Finding a knowledgeable practitioner should be the only concern parents have about offering this effective treatment to a teen struggling with depression.

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