By Dr. Stephanie Johnson, DACM, L.Ac.
*This article includes topics such as depression, self-harm and suicide.
Spring time is often a time where people relish in blossoms, long days, more sunshine, and a chance to get outside. For many, it is a positive, fresh start, but for others who are suffering with mental illness, the upward, rising energy of the Spring can create overwhelm.
Recently a new patient shared, “I don’t know if I want to stay here…on Earth. It’s all too much.” While we are trained to guide someone through the process and connect with resources, family or friends can feel momentarily frozen, breathless, pausing to consider how to best offer support. It can make your heart break seeing someone in distress and pain.
“I came to Dr. Stephanie and Darren in debilitating pain that intensified my depression to the point where I didn’t want to live. I was in pretty bad shape. I felt lost and hopeless after my wife unexpectedly up and left me. I was devastated.” - Daniel
Here’s Daniel’s story: In 2021 at age 46, he had a road bike accident that resulted in a concussion and a fractured spine that didn’t properly heal. After surgery, Daniel started spiraling downward with increased symptoms of depression. Several months after the accident, his wife left him. He experienced some of his bleakest moments after his marriage collapsed.
“I felt the darkness overtaking my spirit. It was suffocating and smothered any hope I had. Honestly, I doubted I’d make it through this ordeal alive.”
At Daniel’s first acupuncture appointment, he shared he’d finally reached out because faking it was no longer an option. His rawness with others was inescapable, causing problems at work and with his kids. He noticed daily he was on the brink of either exploding or internally imploding. Daniel’s breaking point finally arrived when his body was inflamed with indescribable pain that we were able to attribute to him stuffing down, unresolved, raging emotions, and having a wounded, broken heart.
“I had no idea acupuncture could help with BOTH my depression and chronic pain. I’m thankful I took those first steps and sought help. My pain is less and I see glimpses of my old self.”
Our passion for helping others with mental health challenges find peace and balance is very personal. Sadly, we’ve lost many family members and friends to suicide… Uncle Doug, Joshua, Tim, Michael, and my “little” brother, Nathan.
We can’t lose another one. Contrary to popular belief, suicide rates dramatically increase in the spring (April, May and June), not the winter months, with it reaching the lowest in December. Generalizing mental health is a mistake. It’s important to consider the multiple factors contributing to higher rates of mental health. Women typically have been misdiagnosed with depression, then have critical health issues dismissed. While men’s health has focused on physical issues, at the cost to their mental and emotional health.
Thankfully, society is beginning to listen and change the narrative around mental health. Depression is brutal, especially when left untreated. Seeking treatment and care is essential for long-term prognosis. Harvard Medical School research shows depression is more complex and caused by several factors: chemical imbalance(s), mood dysregulation, genetic vulnerability, and stressful life events. While the chemicals in the brain are a key aspect contributing to depression, the interconnectedness of these other factors play an important role. This mixture can lead to various symptoms presenting, such as intense emotions, anxiety, insomnia, or self-harm.
Acupuncture provides a unique, novel approach to address depressive symptoms and offers a holistic solution to the mental health crisis. Incorporating a modern approach, like frequency specific microcurrent and electroacupuncture, has the potential for incredible, positive results on depression by stimulating nerve cell connections and its functionality. By inserting tiny needles into the body, acupuncture releases neurotransmitters to help restore balance and promote healing, especially with one’s emotional reactivity.
My mom always told me, “Never judge a book by its cover. You never know until you walk in another’s shoes, what they are going through.” With mental health, this statement couldn’t be more true. We’ve all seen the ‘happy’ celebrities gone much too soon.
“Depression looks different on everyone. No one is immune from it - either you or someone you know is suffering or has suffered. Most learn to hide behind a facade with smiling, social media photos and polite answers - a disservice to themselves that perpetuates the ‘let’s not talk about it’ syndrome. Know there are many tangible ways one can engage and hopefully, create a positive change.” - Dr. Stephanie Johnson, DACM, L.Ac.
In our acupuncture and integrative health clinic, here are the key signs we observe when someone is experiencing symptoms of depression.
A person’s behavior drastically changes and you observe consistent intense feelings. If it’s just happening once or twice, that doesn’t typically signify depression. The important piece is to begin a conversation to ask into what is going on to head off potential bigger issues later.
BIG, intense emotions are displayed that are disproportionate to the situation. Take time to delve a bit deeper, touching upon their emotional well being. Most of us weren’t taught how to manage or handle big emotions.
Follow-up when the opposite occurs and you notice a complete shut-down or short, curt answers to questions.
If there is on-going avoidance of any kind, continual non-engagement at home or work, this is a major red flag. See if you can engage with the person with a favorite movie, food, or activity. This one is hard and requires delicacy or they might further retreat.
Not engaging in their once favorite activities. When a person doesn’t feel great, they are less likely to participate in the projects or experiences they love.
Decreased libido and changes in sex life. Not wanting to be intimate.
You need to start somewhere to begin to create shifts that are necessary to tackle depressive symptoms. Some people might view this as a band aid approach, but small, baby steps prepare you to begin taking larger steps that lead to changes in your symptoms. Incremental changes also help prevent feeling overwhelmed by starting too many new practices at once. We’ve observed incorporating one daily practice, then slowly adding others, can tremendously help reboot one’s mindset and improve moods:
Begin the day with a gratitude practice. Start with three things you are thankful to have in your life. “I am grateful for my partner.” “I am grateful for my home.” “I am grateful I have a job that enables me to joyfully pay my bills.”
Write five positive, daily affirmations. For example, “I am loved.” “I am worthy.” “My life gets better and better every day.”
Incorporate a regular family, friend, or self gratitude practice before each meal.
Daily, spend at least 20 minutes outside - rain, snow, wind, or sun! Connecting with nature is an accessible way to lift your mood.
Journal away your emotions and all the things you’d never speak aloud. Write your thoughts, feelings, and experiences down - do not type them. Then take the paper and burn, shred, or rip into tiny pieces to release or wash away the unwanted feelings.
Start a meditation practice. As little as 5 minutes a day slowly reboots your brain. Remember, it’s not about the absence of thoughts; it’s about not engaging in them when they pop up. One of our favorite meditation apps is Insight Timer, which you can download free from the app store.
Seek medical help to rule out any medical conditions causing your depressive symptoms.
Seek out professional support such as receiving regular, weekly acupuncture along with therapy. The combination is very powerful and supportive. Acupuncture helps move blocked, stuck emotions to provide more ease in the body while therapy helps you process these emotions.
Reach out to loved ones to share what you are experiencing, especially if you are going through a hard time. Clinically, we’ve learned it only takes a tiny ounce of hope to begin to transform and nourish your spirit back to life. With some nudging, you can gently ease your body, mind, and spirit back into balance. Give it a little time and the light will always engulf the darkness.
Reach out to us if you are struggling with emotional or mental health issues. We will sit with you, meeting you exactly where you are, and whisper back, “We’ve got you.”
*Call 988 if you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States.