Experiences of depression and recovery in Australia

Complementary and holistic approaches

Many people we spoke to took a holistic (all-inclusive) approach to their mental health problems, and had tried various complementary and alternative approaches. Complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) and therapies are widely used in Australia, with around two in three people reporting in 2008 that they had used them, usually to supplement or sometimes in place of conventional health care. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) define CAM as:
  1. alternative medical systems (e.g. homeopathy, ayurvedic & Traditional Chinese Medicine, including acupuncture);
  2. mind-body interventions (e.g. mediation & yoga);
  3. biologically-based therapies (e.g. herbal medicine, naturopathy and vitamins and mineral supplements);
  4. manipulative & body-based methods (e.g. chiropractic, massage and oesteopathy); and
  5. energy therapies (e.g. biofield therapies such as reiki and bioenergetics therapies such as pulsed electromagnets).
Most of the people we talked to who used complementary and alternative approaches did so along with conventional approaches such as medication and / or talking therapy. Some had tried different therapies at different times, others had tried just one or two things, while others believed that a variety of therapies used in combination worked best. Belinda had had negative experience with antidepressants and wanted to stay away from ‘chemicals’ when her depression returned. Instead she took part in counselling as well as kinesiology, massage, yoga, acupuncture, naturopathy, meditation and hypnotherapy. Other people used different therapies, conventional or alternative, for different purposes.
Some people we spoke to talked about finding a single complementary approach particularly helpful. For example, Millaa, who had not had especially favourable experiences with talking therapy and who did not want to take antidepressants, told us that herbal teas helped relax him both mentally and physically – though he regretted their effects were not longer-lasting. Ralph believed that his symptoms flared up when he ate highly processed foods with additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG). He told us that as long as he kept to a strict natural diet he stayed well. Some people found hypnotherapy particularly useful for helping them relax, while another person liked the concentration required when practising yoga' ‘…you haven’t got time to think of everything else and that’s a good thing for me.’
Some people were undecided about complementary and alternative approaches to mental health care. Shaz talked about the lower cost of conventional medicine as compared with naturopathy. Sara said it was important to approach CAM with care, especially as depression often made people vulnerable and open to exploitation. Amelia, who felt strongly that her depression was linked to her hormones and who found medication helpful, highlighted the relative lack of evidence behind complementary approaches.
A well-balanced lifestyle (see Self-care and coping strategies’) as a strategy for managing depression or anxiety was advocated by some people. They emphasised the importance of a healthy diet, exercise (‘just getting out for a walk’), adequate sleep, sunshine and social interaction (‘don’t isolate yourself’), as well as giving up potentially destructive habits such as drinking, smoking or illicit drugs.

Last reviewed January 2016.
Last updated January 2016.

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