No, Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine Will Not Help My Depression

Acupuncture needles

Are you seriously going to tell a skeptic with depression that alternative medicine is an emotional cure-all?

In response to yesterday’s piece about meta-depression, I got this comment on Facebook:

“A long course of acupuncture from a licensed acupuncturist plus probably Chinese herbs is often going to help anyone with anything emotional.”

Sigh. Okay, fine. Let’s do this.

Dear Person:

First, I specifically asked people in this post to frame any suggestions as things that worked for them. I specifically said I did NOT want prescriptive advice, for me or anyone else. Are you always this careless about violating depressed people’s boundaries?

Second: Your advice is unhelpful at best and dangerous at worst. Even if these methods were effective, there is no single method of managing mental or emotional problems that works for everyone. Suggesting that there is one is dismissive at best, reckless at worst.

And there’s no reason to think these methods are effective. Acupuncture has been carefully tested with rigorous methods, and has repeatedly been shown to have no more effect than placebo. As for herbal remedies, they either have zero effect, or they have an effect which could be dangerous if the effects, dosage, and interactions with other medications have not been carefully tested. As Tim Minchin famously put it: By definition, alternative medicine has either not been proved to work, or been proved not to work. Do you know what they call “alternative medicine” that’s been proved to work? Medicine.

Depression is no freaking joke. Pursuing untested or ineffective medicine for it is seriously dangerous.

Do not give medical advice to people who have not asked for it. Do not give catch-all solutions to complex, difficult-to-address problems. And do not violate clearly-stated boundaries.


Well, whaddya know. Alternative medicine does have a positive effect on depression. Unleashing this rant has been very satisfying.

No, Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine Will Not Help My Depression

10 thoughts on “No, Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine Will Not Help My Depression

  1. 2

    “It sounds more like anger than depression”

    jasmine okeefe @#1: ????? Do you think those two are somehow contradictory? Do you think it’s impossible to have depression, and to be angry about how some people respond to it?

  2. 5

    “I will use science to refute creationism, geocentrism, bloodletting and global warming denial… but keep AWAY from my Chinese herbs and acupuncture!”

    Science: Destroying one sacred cow at a time! (Because it works.)

  3. 6

    Hey, bloodletting is a useful therapy. It’s first line therapy for hemochromatosis (a condition where the body absorbs too much iron, eventually leading to liver problems) and polycythemia vera (an overproduction of red blood cells).

    Also, at least one “traditional chinese medication” has been proven to work: There was a “traditional*” medicine for leukemia that consisted of arsenic, snake venom, and something equally nasty sounding that I forgot. Anyway, researchers–in China, I think–examined the stuff and found that the arsenic component really did help with treatment of one specific rare leukemia, acute promyelocytic leukemia. Ironically, APL was already one of the only cancers that really can be treated with vitamins: all-trans retinoic acid (a form of vitamin A) is part of the treatment regimen and has been for years. APL is now the first cancer that can be treated entirely with non-cytoxic (that is, non-cell killing) medical therapy.

    In short, alternative medicine that works=medicine. Also, no, “big medicine” does NOT ignore the “ancient wisdom” of traditional medicine. It investigates and, when appropriate, incorporates traditional medicine.

    *Not sure how truly “traditional” it is. It’s my understanding that a fair amount of TCM goes back no further than Mao.

  4. 7

    I think that your critique of the comment was a little harsh. I don’t think that he or she tried to say that this method of “medicine” worked for everybody.

    A long course of acupuncture from a licensed acupuncturist plus probably Chinese herbs is often going to help anyone with anything emotional.

    It almost seems like a contradictory statement, when this individual says “almost” and “anyone” in the same breath, but I think an equally reasonable way of reading the comment is that “anyone with anything emotional” is a segment of the sentence that’s sort of on its own. Had the commenter said “everyone,” that would have been different.

    Additionally, I don’t think people will often listen if you tell them to not say something. It may even incline some people to automatically think of “Free Speech!”, and it’s not hard to see what will happen from there. If I could suggest (not medical advice!) a way to deal with these people, I believe itmay be a better course of action to not mention what you don’t want them to do at all, in the same sense telling someone to not google something may prove counterproductive.

    I also felt that the person’s suggestion was of ambiguous orientation—that is, it wasn’t explicitly about what worked for her, but wasn’t outright “marketed” it to you.

    Just my two cents.

  5. 8

    Additionally, I don’t think people will often listen if you tell them to not say something.

    Learning Process @ #7: If you’re opposed to the basic idea of conversational boundaries, this is not a good blog for you. I tell people “Don’t say this thing to me, or don’t say this thing at all, here’s why” a LOT. If you don’t like that, there is a large Internet full of other places for you to have conversations.

  6. 9

    (That’s how you respond to other comments here!)

    Greta Christina @ #8:

    I stopped short of opposing conversational boundaries. I do think they’re useful, particularly given the apparent ease with which discussions (online or otherwise) branch off into tangents.

    My point was that many people may simply not listen, per some of the possible reasons I mentioned above. It’s inherently harder to set boundaries online with anonymous individuals with little to no fear of repercussions—that’s why I suggested that setting boundaries about what to say or what not to say might be ineffective.

    (Off-topic question: Would your consider adding an edit feature for comments here? I make no shortage of typos (an issue exacerbated by the flawed autocorrect system on my mobile device), and I was wondering if I could fix them retroactively.)

  7. 10

    I personally really appreciate it when people are clear up-front about what they’re looking for out of their audience in terms of action, feedback, etc. Learning Process.
    Actually on reflection I feel pretty strongly that way about interactions in general.

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