Teenage Mental Health and Chinese Medicine

At Acupuncture in the Park, we have found that treating pre-teens, teens, and young adults to be some of the most satisfying work that we do, primarily because they respond so quickly to the acupuncture, and the results can be life-changing.  Not only have we treated our share of young patients with aches, pains, and soccer injuries, but also we have worked with kids who were struggling with depression, anxiety, anger, insomnia, and stress.

Not long ago, this letter to the editor about teen mental health appeared in our local newspaper:

Many parents may relate to the July 5 article “Worried about a moody teen?”  An acquaintance told me recently that the severe anger of her middle son had caused problems in the family.  She decided to try alternative medicine and took him to an acupuncturist.  After one visit, the change in the 11-year-old was amazing.  A local acupuncturist told me that acupuncture in pre-adolescents and adolescents can be extremely effective.  It could be worth a try.  (Minneapolis Star Tribune, Monday, July 12, 2010)

As the letter states, acupuncture can be incredibly effective for adolescents. This is true for a number of reasons.  First, for the most part, they are young and healthy.  Acupuncture tends to be far more effective for someone who is healthy and able to heal quickly, as opposed to someone in their seventies or eighties who has been ill for a long time. 

The second reason that acupuncture works so well for adolescents goes back to Chinese medical theory.  The Chinese say that children are considered to be pure Yang.  Compared to the nourishing, cooling, substance of Yin, Yang is warm, active, and transformative.  And that’s what kids do—they transform.  They are growing and changing almost daily, and it seems that as soon as you have one stage figured out, they have moved onto the next.  This is a good thing on the healing front.  Because kids are growing so quickly, they also heal quickly.  This is both good news and bad news, especially when we’re talking about adolescents.  

The pure Yang thing can also work against kids, especially during the pre-teen and teen years. Good health, or balance, in Chinese medicine is all about smooth flow, and for the most part, our kids grow and flow smoothly.  Unfortunately, as kids go through adolescence, they begin changing even more quickly. On top of the physical growth, kids are faced with increasing stress of school and peer relationships. Then Mother Nature throws in a dark cocktail of hormones to make that transformation even more…uh, interesting.  For some kids, this sudden growth, plus hormones, plus stress creates a perfect storm that can block the smooth flow of energy and emotions, causing a wide variety of mental health symptoms.

Finally, acupuncture works for emotional health issues because it affects brain chemistry.  Researchers studying the effects of acupuncture have determined that acupuncture causes an increase in production of endorphins and other feel-good chemicals in the brain, causing a calming effect.  For this reason, acupuncture can effectively treat emotional conditions including stress, anxiety, depression, and panic attacks.

Many parents don’t know where to turn when their adolescent is struggling with anger or depression.  Understandably, they’re hesitant to medicate their teen, but they also know that their child needs help.

The good news is that in these healthy, ever changing adolescents, acupuncture can be a life saver, which is so aptly expressed in the letter above.  If your teen is struggling, consider giving acupuncture a try.

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