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 Question mark: This treatment has not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.

What is it?

In acupuncture, thin needles are inserted into specific areas of a person’s body.  Acupuncture is done by a trained acupuncturist. The needles are inserted in different places depending on the type of acupuncture being used. Acupuncture has origins in China and Japan where it has been used for a long time.

How does it work?

Acupuncture is intended to affect the balance of energy (known as qi) in the body. In the tradition of acupuncture, balanced energy is thought to be good for your health. In order to create balance in energy, needles are inserted in to certain points on the skin known as acupoints. This is intended to affect the flow of qi through certain channels (known as meridians).  In the Western understanding of medicine, it is thought that the needles stimulate nerve fibres in the central nervous system. These nerves affect the neurochemicals in the brain which are responsible for mood.

Is it effective?

It is not clear whether acupuncture is helpful for depression. There have been numerous studies on this topic. Some found that acupuncture was helpful and others did not.

Are there any disadvantages?

Acupuncture is mostly not painful but can occasionally hurt when the needle is inserted.  Some people have also reported feeling dizzy, nauseous, tired, or having a headache for a short time after acupuncture.

A course of acupuncture treatment can involve between 12 to 40 sessions over 4 to 12 weeks. In Australia, the cost of acupuncture is not covered by Medicare.

Where do you get it?

Acupuncturists generally work out of their own private clinics. You can find their contact details through the yellow pages. The Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association Ltd has an Online Practitioner Referral Service, where you can search for accredited practitioners in your area. Your doctor may also be able to give you a referral to an acupuncturist they recommend.


It is not clear whether acupuncture is helpful for depression. Some acupuncturists may be helpful and some not. Experienced doctors may know of acupuncturists who have helped people with depression.  It is recommended that you consult a doctor before seeking out acupuncture.

Key references

  • Smith CA, Hay PP, Macpherson H. Acupuncture for depression.  Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010 Jan 20;(1); CD004046. (Level I)

Last updated and reviewed: 1 December 2016