BioCeuticals Article

Balancing mental health: A little less pill-popping, a little more integrated health

Balancing mental health: A little less pill-popping, a little more integrated health
Date: 2013-09-05
Author: - Editor
Access: Public

little_less_little_moreAs the Black Dog Institute’s Exercise Your Mood month kicks off, leading researchers and advocates for complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) in mental health are pursuing a movement towards a more integrated mental health approach. 

Author of Clinical depression: an evidence-based integrative complementary medicine treatment model and NHMRC Clinical Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne, Dr Jerome Sarris, says treatment of mental illness has evolved and treatments now include a combination of pharmacologic treatments, psychotherapy and psychosocial interventions, as well as alternative therapies such as acupuncture, herbal and nutritional medicine, dietary modification and meditation.

In his published paper, Dr Sarris proposes the Antidepressant-Lifestyle-Psychological-Social (ALPS) depression treatment model.[1]

“An integrated mental health approach should include pharmaceutical medicines as well as psychological therapies, nutraceuticals, lifestyle adjustments, potential for better diet and exercise, as well as sociological or spiritual influences,” says Dr Sarris.

Practitioners should advise patients never to stop their prescription medicine, Dr Sarris advises. However, prescription medicine or CAMs should not be regarded as substitutes for psychological treatment.

“Even in cases where conventional pharmacologic agents or CAM treatments are very successful, important psychological issues are frequently present. Patients who are motivated and have the capacity for insight should be encouraged to consider ongoing psychological treatment,” says Dr Sarris.

When prescribing alternative medicines, Dr Sarris advises practitioners and pharmacists to ensure the product is of a high quality, backed by strong evidence, uses the best quality raw constituents, and incorporates standardisation and quality control. “These aspects are very important especially when dealing with herbal medicine. It’s all about understanding the research, improving the education and improving the ability to communicate with the public.”

“It’s not just about popping a pill, it’s about approaching it in an integrative manner.”

Complementary medicine to support mental health

CAMs backed by strong evidence include S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), which has been used to treat depression and dementia for many years. Severely low levels of SAMe have been found in all brain regions of Alzheimer’s disease patients.

St John’s wort is one of the most scientifically validated herbal medicines for anxiety and mood support.  

Omega-3 fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are a natural anti-inflammatory. Increased inflammation in the body has been found to be associated with depression. 

Dr Sarris also recommends practitioners and patients look into supplementation with zinc, folic acid and tryptophan.

Mental health: do’s and don’ts

Dr Sarris recommends following the ALPS model when treating patients for mental health conditions. Here are some practical lifestyle tips:

Include a little more...

  • Alternative therapies such as acupuncture, in conjunction with antidepressant medication.
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet.
  • Psychological intervention.
  • Social and spiritual elements in your week – human connections are important.
  • Exposure and involvement in nature.
  • Mindful meditation.
  • Good quality sleep.

Include a little less...

  • Refined carbohydrates and sugars in your diet.
  • Sedentary lifestyle – include some exercise in your day.
  • Alcohol and recreational substances.
  • Fixed mindedness – be open to both prescription medicine and alternative therapies.
  • Rash decisions – speak to your healthcare practitioner before stopping or starting any prescription or alternative medications.

Exercise Your Mood month runs from 1 - 30 September 2013. For more information visit 

[1] Sarris J. Clinical depression: an evidence-based integrative complementary medicine treatment model. Altern Therap Jul/Aug 2011;17(4):26-37.