How TCM views Mental Health (Part 1)

The month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Many are taking this opportunity to raise awareness for mental health which affects 1 in 5 Americans worldwide. In Singapore, the lifetime prevalence of mental illness is 12%, which is about 1 in 8 people having a mental disorder. The top 3 most common disorder is Major Depressive Disorder, Alcohol Abuse and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (Institute of Mental Health, Singapore, 2010).


WHO defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” You can be eating the healthiest food, all that whole-real-MCT-green juice- organic meat diet but if you aren’t in a happy state of mind, that is not being truly healthy. Your mental health is as important as physical health!

Today’s post is about:

  • Facts on mental health
  • How it’s not all about the brain
  • TCM: 5 organs that control the mind
  • 3 Acupuncture points you need to know


10  facts on Mental Health

TCM and Mind, Body, Spirit

Mental health is a very broad subject, and it involves our entire mind,body and spirit (MBS).  Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that the body, mind, and spirit are all interlinked thus mental health can affect us on more than one level. Below are some of the body, mind and spirit discomforts that are associated with mental health.

1.BODY discomforts – Sighing all the time, tightness in the chest, unable to breathe properly,  schizophrenia, immune system (autoimmune diseases), insomnia, fatigue, constant brain-fog, headache, general pain, excessive weight loss or gain for no reason.

2. MIND & SPIRIT discomforts– Persistent sadness, anxiety, depression, cannot be in the present, being pessimistic, being indifferent, thoughts of suicide or death,hopelessness, worthlessness, difficulty in concentration, social withdrawal.


It’s not all about the brain

Surprisingly, TCM puts very little emphasis on the brain. Instead, we look at the 5 organs – Liver, Heart, Spleen, Lung and Kidney when we diagnose any mental issues. In TCM, we see the organs as a system. That’s why for example “Lung” is singular even though we have 2 lungs. Of course, it doesn’t mean that if someone is depressed, the surgeon will find a illness like a cyst in the lungs. The organs has a wide range of function that affects the organ itself as well as the areas where the meridians run. TCM is very complex and is very difficult to quantify and put everything under the microscope.


5 organs control mental health


Emperor Heart

When it comes to mental health, the most important organ – the Emperor of emotions would be the Heart. Heart is referred to as the “Residence of the Shen”, Shen meaning “Mind”. It indicates the activity of thinking, self-consciousness, self-identity, memories and various parts of our psyche. The Mind (Heart) can “feel” emotions, so ultimately the Heart is affected, sometimes alongside with other organs. As emotions cause some “Heat”, (think heated argument), the tip of the tongue turns red when the Heart is affected.

Angry Liver

The next most important organ is the Liver. It is the “Residence of the Hun” or ethereal soul which is closely related to the Heart and is another level of consciousness, it is different from the Mind but closely related to it. It’s more responsible for the “movement” of our mind like in the form of ideas, dreams and inspiration. The ethereal soul is connected to the Liver and is responsible for sound sleep and dreaming. If the Liver is not functioning properly (Liver Qi stagnation, Liver Blood or Liver Yin deficiency), we will have too many dreams or nightmares. When Liver Qi is not smooth, the “coming-and-going”  flow of the Mind will be disrupted, causing symptoms such as anger, stress, depression and not in touch with emotions.

Sad Lung

The Lung is the “Residence of Po” or corporeal soul. It is related to weeping and crying in times of physical pain (Lung is related to the skin),  and crying when sad. Excessive grief and sadness can “block” the corporeal soul and cause Lung Qi to get stuck.
Imagine the Heart as the Emperor and Lung as the Prime Minister. Lung is in charge of the administrative functions to regulate all physiological activities in every organ and every part of the body, just like how Prime Minister’s office controls all governmental administration. Lung governs the Qi, controls all blood vessel and breathing. Unlike the Liver, weak Lungs tend to cause problems during the daytime. It can also manifest as coughing, shortness of breath, skin problems such as eczema, atopic dermatitis, constipation.

What’s the relationship between Lung and constipation?!  you might ask. Lung’s partner organ is the Large Intestine and the anus is also called “Door of Po”. My father specialises in respiratory illness (IIPs to be exact, where the lungs become like honeycombs) and constipation is a common symptom in many of his patients. I find this really interesting.

Overthinking Spleen

The Spleen is the “Residence of Yi”, meaning “idea” or “intellect” The Yi is inside the Spleen and is responsible for thinking, studying, focusing, concentration, basically your creative – juice bank. If the Spleen is weak, the Yi will become dull and slow. Remember the Mind (Heart)? Relationship between organs is not exactly exclusive and bound to have some overlaps. Someone can be super smart (strong Spleen Yi) but very forgetful (weak Heart Mind). Things can also go the other way, where if you overthink too much, the Spleen will become weaker. This will show up as digestive problems such as bloating, indigestion, diarrhoea, constipation, acid reflux.

Determined Kidney

The Kidney is the “Residence of the Zhi,” which roughly translates to “will-power” or “memory”. Memory is like our data bank for storing data with unlimited GB and it can store for a long time. As you get older, the Kidney weakens and that’s why  grandparents become forgetful. Whereas will-power gives us determination, pursuit of goal and positive-vibes! If the Kidney is weak, you will lack the drive and initiative which is also an underlying cause of chronic depression. Kidney is also associated with Fear. Thinking about it, lack of will power does bring upon fear.

3 Acupuncture points for mental health

From a Western medicine perspective, this is how acupuncture helps:

  1. Acupuncture raises the level of endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are chemicals produced in the brain that gives you that euphoric feeling. All things rainbow-unicorn-runner’s high. It helps to numb the pain also positively affect your mood.
  2. Acupuncture can regulate serotonin, which is a “happy” chemicals produced in your brain.
  3. Felt sleepy or light headed after acupuncture? That’s because acupuncture can lower blood pressure, induce relaxation, improve blood circulation and decrease anxiety. Infusing all the chill vibe into your body.

Here are the 3 points on your wrist that you can press anytime you feel that panic attack.

TCM and mental health


Part 2 will be up soon! Thank you for reading.



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One Reply to “How TCM views Mental Health (Part 1)”

  1. Vilas Degamwar says: Reply

    Good Information.

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