Mental-emotional conditions are now very prevalent amongst young people. There are now a multitude of studies confirming what parents, teachers and anyone working with young people already know: that anxiety and depression are widespread in children and teenagers. Sometimes we see children as young as five or six come to the clinic with anxiety or depression that is so extreme that it is having a significant impact on their lives.
Anxiety and unhappiness are, to some degree, a part of life and most children will experience them at times. A child who escapes these emotions entirely may find themselves less able to cope with the inevitable challenges of adult life. However in some cases, the severity or frequency of the anxiety or depression that a child feels are such that they begin to get in the way of everyday life.
Acupuncture can support children to feel better about themselves and more comfortable in their own skin. However, it is not likely that a child with a complex mental-emotional condition will be helped by acupuncture alone. The child will need treatment from a range of health care professionals who are trained in the particular complexities of mental health disorders.
What do young people become anxious or depressed about?
Some children have a tendency towards feeling low and without hope. Others have a tendency to feel anxious. Many alternate between these two extremes. Some of the most common issues that lead to anxiety and depression in children are:
- Difficulties within the family
- Friendships and relationships
- Academic achievements and exams
- Physical appearance
- The future
- World problems
- Separation from parents
- Getting things wrong
- Social situations
Somatisation of feelings
Sometimes children seek treatment for their anxiety or depression. Frequently however, the child may present with a physical symptom which is, at least in part, an outward manifestation of his unhappiness or anxiety. The most common example is the Monday morning stomach ache. It is much easier for a child to say that they have a stomach ache than it is to say that they are worried about going to school.
How can we approach mental health in children with acupuncture?
A wonderful system that lends itself well to supporting children with anxiety and depression is the Five Element system. Five Element theory is a Chinese philosophy used to describe interactions and relationships between things. The Five Elements (Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood) are believed to be the fundamental elements of everything in the universe and interactions happen between them.
It is very helpful to determine which of the Elements are strong or weak in a child, and then apply acupuncture to bring back a healthy balance between the elements.
The Fire Element
The fire element is all about social relationships. A child that has an unbalanced fire element will have some social anxiety and struggle with feeling loved. They often start disliking themselves and struggle to manifest their individual nature in the world. They tend to become someone they’re not and instead behave in a way that they think will be liked and loved.
Other signs that there is a problem in the fire element are:
- Lacking in joy or excessively joyful
- Inappropriate laughter
- Struggle to make eye contact
- They light up when you give warmth
- Sleep is often affected
The Earth Element
Children with a problem in their earth element tend to have a mental kind of anxiety, obsessive thoughts and a feeling they can’t cope. They feel that no one understands them. They worry a lot and often feel worse when they are away from home. There might also be separation anxiety.
Other signs that there is a problem in the earth element are:
- Sympathy seeking
- Feeling hard done by
- Often they have digestive complaints
The Metal Element
The Metal Element has to do with self esteem. The child will have thoughts like “am I good enough”. They often feel sad and isolated and tend to withdraw. There may be lots of self critical voices. Often this is worse when the child is not in their own environment.
Other signs that there is a problem in the metal element are:
- Sadness and grief
- They might appear fine on the surface
- To compensate for their lack in self esteem they may try to impress with their knowledge
The Water Element
This is most closely aligned with what we think of as anxiety. It is a tendency towards agitation and restlessness. These children are often hyper vigilant and very fearful. Everything seems so overwhelming to them that they can’t do anything. This often greatly interferes with their lives.
Other signs that there is a problem in the water element are:
- Jumpy and eyes are often darting around
- May have pronounced fears
- Catastrophic fantasies
- Existential anxiety
The Wood Element
These children often experience a great deal of stress. They have many things on their to do lists and are not sure how to accomplish them. This can lead to excessive planning. There are often negative thoughts and the child feels hopeless, cannot see the point of things. These children often feel better with movement and exercise and feel worse when over-loaded or super busy.
Other signs that there is a problem in the wood element are:
- Appear confident and self-sufficient
- Having a hard time of going with the flow
- Internally they are constantly planning
How can acupuncture help with mental-emotional problems in children?
Acupuncture can influence the relationship the child has with their emotions, the expression of those emotions and their felt experience of being in the world. It can do this without the child necessarily needing to talk in any great detail about how they feel. Acupuncture has an advantage over talking therapies for those children that find it hard to articulate their emotions and feel threatened by the requirement to do so. Acupuncture can help the child to feel better about themselves and more comfortable in their own skin.
Where can I get acupuncture for my child?
Treating children is a fine art, it is definitely not like treating a smaller version of an adult. Their bodies and brains are wired differently and it is really important to understand how exactly they are different to be able to give them the right treatment and keep them healthy.
Therefore it is really important to seek an acupuncturist that has done specific training in paediatric acupuncture. Here at Natural Solutions Acupuncture Marieke has trained with Rebecca Avern in the UK, one of the most well known paediatric acupuncturists in the world.
How do I make an appointment?