Background: Depression is a significant cause of morbidity. Many patients have communicated an interest in non-pharmacological therapies to their general practitioners. Systematic reviews of acupuncture and counselling for depression in primary care have identified limited evidence. The aim of this study was to evaluate acupuncture versus usual care and counselling versus usual care for patients who continue to experience depression in primary care.
Methods and findings: In a randomised controlled trial, 755 patients with depression (Beck Depression Inventory BDI-II score ≥ 20) were recruited from 27 primary care practices in the North of England. Patients were randomised to one of three arms using a ratio of 2.2.1 to acupuncture (302), counselling (302), and usual care alone (151). The primary outcome was the difference in mean Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) scores at 3 months with secondary analyses over 12 months follow-up. Analysis was by intention-to-treat. PHQ-9 data were available for 614 patients at 3 months and 572 patients at 12 months. Patients attended a mean of ten sessions for acupuncture and nine sessions for counselling. Compared to usual care, there was a statistically significant reduction in mean PHQ-9 depression scores at 3 months for acupuncture (-2.46, 95% CI -3.72 to -1.21) and counselling (-1.73, 95% CI -3.00 to -0.45), and over 12 months for acupuncture (-1.55, 95% CI -2.41 to -0.70) and counselling (-1.50, 95% CI -2.43 to -0.58). Differences between acupuncture and counselling were not significant. In terms of limitations, the trial was not designed to separate out specific from non-specific effects. No serious treatment-related adverse events were reported.
Conclusions: In this randomised controlled trial of acupuncture and counselling for patients presenting with depression, after having consulted their general practitioner in primary care, both interventions were associated with significantly reduced depression at 3 months when compared to usual care alone.
Trial registration: Controlled-Trials.com ISRCTN63787732 Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.