Published: 10 November 2021
Last Sunday was World Mental Health Day 2021, with the theme of ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’ set by the World Federation for Mental Health.
In this article, the Health and Wellbeing team discuss the world of Alternative Medicine. A diverse set of practices, beliefs and treatments, they talk about how some may help impact your mental health through treating the body and mind as one.
“Mental health is a vital national issue at the best of times, but the need for meaningful support in the community has become even more relevant as we’ve navigated the challenges of the pandemic [LINK].
COVID-19 has highlighted many of the inequalities that exist in society and the impact of privilege and access.
Here in the Western world prescription drugs such as antidepressants, as well as talking therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), are seen as key to mental health treatment.
But it’s important to highlight that not one size fits all. That’s why we’re taking the opportunity of this year’s theme to talk about alternative treatment options.
It’s an opportunity to ask whether there are methods that address the individual as a whole rather than focusing mainly on negative thoughts as CBT does.
Seeing the mind as inseparable from the body acknowledges something we all seem to know instinctively - that our emotions impact us physically.
Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAMs)
CAMs cover a wide range of different treatments outside of the kinds you would usually find in a hospital or GP setting.
They can include things like acupuncture and homoeopathy, as well as aromatherapy, meditation and even colonic irrigation.
The US Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health uses these definitions:
Complimentary: When a non-mainstream practise is used together with conventional medicine.
Alternative: When a non-mainstream practise is used instead of conventional medicine.
There can also be some overlap such as homoeopathy, acupuncture, osteopathy and herbal medicines.
Although some CAMs are based on principles and evidence not recognised by the majority of independent scientists, others have been proven to work for a limited number of health conditions.
For example, there's evidence that osteopathy and chiropractic practices are effective for treating lower back pain.
CAMs are regulated by laws that ensure practitioners properly adhere to certain codes and are appropriately qualified.
It is important to note that the NHS does recommend some treatments for specific conditions, but the list is very limited. We strongly suggest you discuss any treatment options with your GP.
This is a traditional technique from Chinese medicine that uses needles to stimulate specific points around the body. The person who performs this therapy (an acupuncturist) sticks thin, sterile needles into your skin to help your body’s natural healing process kick in. Studies indicate that acupuncture could treat several conditions including neck and back pain, nausea, anxiety, depression, insomnia and infertility among others.
Chiropractic has been around since 1897 but has come a very long way since an American doctor named DD Palmer opened his first school. It focuses on how the structure of the body works, using various techniques to adjust the spine into a proper alignment. The aim is to essentially ease pain, help the body move more easily, and even heal itself. Although a lot of research focus has been on lower back pain, some studies have shown that it can help with things like headaches, neck pain, joint problems and more.
Some people believe in so-called ‘energy fields’ which exist in and around the body can be used to treat various ailments.
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
Also known as ‘tapping’. A practitioner uses a combination of Western talking therapies such as CBT, meditation and tapping on the body’s ‘meridian points’ that is said to neutralise negative emotions or associations and clear blocks which may be stopping a person from moving forward. It can be used to alleviate stress, anxiety and help with depression, physical and chronic conditions, and support weight loss.
Magnetic Field Therapy
The use of magnetic or electrical fields for muscular problems. Some studies have shown that it can help with osteoarthritis and other pain conditions, possibly helping to increase the rate of healing.
It’s important to note that this may not be safe if you’re pregnant, have a cardiac device like a pacemaker, use an insulin pump or take medication through a patch.
This common therapy is particularly popular, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimating that around 80% of the world’s population use herbal medicine. It includes using parts of plants, including the roots, leaves, berries and flowers, to heal the body of various illnesses.
Studies show some herbs can have a positive impact on allergies, fatigue, pain and more. But because herbal treatments can be sold without safety checks only ever buy from a reputable high street business and check with your GP before you decide to take anything.
There are plenty of other areas within the world of Alternative Medicine which we haven’t been able to cover here. But we would urge you to always do your research and speak with a medical professional when considering any treatments.”
If you need to talk about medical conditions like mental health and find out what help the University can provide, the Health and Wellbeing team are here for you.
And give us your thoughts on mental health at the University in our annual University of Sunderland Student Mental Health Survey 2021-22. Find out more by following #WeAreSunLon on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.