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Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness Week

Acupressure self-care: a kind approach for mental ill health

by Mark Bovey, Head of Research

Mental ill health is one of the foremost reasons for people in the UK to consult traditional acupuncturists, but since 23 March the clinics have been closed. Mental health problems have been forecast to rise significantly as a result of the current coronavirus pandemic and many acupuncture patients, not just those who originally presented with mental health issues but also those suffering physical pain, are finding it difficult to cope without their treatment. Some, feeling at the end of their tether, have contacted the British Acupuncture Council (desperate for clinics to reopen) as well as their own practitioner:

'I’m not doing well, I’ve gone downhill since lockdown and not being able to access acupuncture – please book me in as soon as possible. Thank you.'

Acupuncture is an effective treatment for depression, as demonstrated by the high quality randomised controlled trial at the University of York with 750 patients. Lead researcher professor Hugh MacPherson said:

'In the largest study of its kind, we have now provided a solid evidence base to show that not only can acupuncture and counselling bring patients out of an episode of depression, but it can keep the condition at bay for up to a year on average.'

For anxiety and PTSD there are also encouraging results, although further high-quality trials are needed for confirmation. We are working with the charity Anxiety UK to provide an acupuncture service for their members and to measure the treatment outcomes. So far the results are good but greater numbers of participants are needed.

Traumatic stress and even PTSD may be long-term consequences of the current crisis for healthcare workers and acupuncturists are volunteering to provide support to NHS staff. In 2017 some of our members set up a free service for local people traumatised by the Grenfell Tower fire: https://www.worldmedicine.org.uk/grenfell/.

Acupuncture is delivered at close quarters, certainly within two metres, so is there any help that can be offered at a distance? Self-administered acupressure has a substantial history, both with and without direction by a practitioner. Right now, when so much interpersonal contact is happening by video link, it is a relatively simple matter for acupuncturists to direct their patients on how to self-treat – which are the best points on their body, how to find them and how to stimulate them with fingers, thumbs or even fists. The treatment is usually tailored to your individual circumstances and will often include lifestyle advice around diet, relaxation and exercise, and how this works in unison with activating the points.

There is research to support it too. For example, a recent randomised controlled trial recruited 207 carers of elderly relatives and provided two weeks of training prior to six weeks of self-care with acupressure. The carers were all suffering from stress and fatigue, but by the end of the trial both of these symptoms, together with insomnia, depression and physical quality of life, were substantially improved – and to a greater degree than usually seen with behavioural therapies https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32096884.

The watchword for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is kindness. During the past few weeks there have been many wonderful examples of kindnesses, both great and small. But kindness to others goes hand in hand with being kind to your-self, which is not always so easy. Acupressure is one among a multitude of possible self-help, safe-care approaches. It’s simple to do, effective and harmless – just don’t press too hard: firmly but not painfully!

And while it’s perfectly possible to teach yourself basic acupressure, if you want to treat yourself with more assurance, accuracy, and efficacy, it’s well worth getting some help from an expert. You can find a qualified, registered and insured member of the British Acupuncture Council here

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