Mental illness on the rise in Canada: is alternative medicine the answer?

Despite medical advances in both traditional and alternative medicine, Canadians are increasingly suffering from emotional and mental health problems. Mental health problems are so prevalent that, statistically speaking, every person will encounter these challenges, whether personally or through a family member or friend.

As a psychiatrist, my concern is that each person have access to the best possible treatment available. Traditional and allopathic medicine with pharmacological intervention has typically been the mainstay; however, findings show that the number of visits to alternative healthcare practitioners in North America exceeds the number of visits to family physicians. Is alternative medicine offering a better cure?

The Psychological Landscape

Acknowledging that many mental health disorders have an inheritable component, it is likely that we will experience a further rise of mental disorders. We are already experiencing an epidemic of dementia. In North America, it is postulated that the number of people with dementia (particularly Alzheimer’s disease) will double every ten years.

Various depressive disorders are also on the increase worldwide. Attention Deficit Disorder in adults and children is being increasingly recognized and diagnosed. Drug and alcohol related disorders are steadily increasing as well. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.53 million people

will commit suicide by 2020. Studies show that as many as 90 percent of people who commit suicide had a mental disorder.

The Treatment

While significant advances have been made in the treatment of these disorders (namely through the use of psychopharmacologic, psychotherapeutic and other physical treatments, such as electroconvulsive therapy) their impact remains modest. Psychotropic drugs contribute to a remission rate of approximately 50 percent, while the occurrence of adverse effects often limits their use and contributes to poor compliance.

Conversely, alternative medicine dates back thousands of years to biblical times. Psychotherapeutic treatments, including listening and supporting, have been in use since time immemorial, and while many such treatments have yet to be validated, they remain widely practiced.

The Solution

From my medical experience, the answer is not allopathic or alternative medicine, but both. There is an increasing acknowledgement by healthcare practitioners and medical professionals that there is a need for integrating both practices. In the ongoing search for cures and freedom from mental health problems, the public and the medical community are turning increasingly to alternative and complementary approaches as evidenced by the increasing expenditure on alternative treatments. While alternative and complementary medicine have been in use for centuries (both Ayurvedic Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine predate Western Medicine by centuries) it is only recently that traditional practitioners have recognized the need to tap into the expertise of complementary practitioners. We’re

seeing evidence of this with the establishment of the first integrative health care clinics in British Columbia, and setting up of such similar facilities in the US.

As someone who has been successfully cured of two serious medical problems by traditional pharmacological interventions, I applaud the drug industries for their continuing diligence in researching and providing these treatments to health compromised people. It is my vision however, that traditional and alternative healthcare practitioners are given an opportunity to work together to meet the rising mental health needs worldwide. Many alternative treatments including nutritional products (Omega-3, SAMe), acupuncture, exercise, herbal products, electromagnetic waves, chiropractic interventions and aromatherapy, are being used in the treatment of mental health problems, and they can complement current psychopharmacologic and psychotherapeutic treatments.

The Vision

It is from that vision of having traditional and alternative medicine integrated, that The First International Conference on Integrative, Complementary and Alternative Medicine (ICAM) and Mental Health was birthed. The conference brings together medical professionals from all over the world

to educate and support physicians, practitioners and individuals who help those suffering from what are often crippling personal and economic problems.

The conference theme is Creating Hope in Mental Health, an area where hopelessness is often acknowledged. It provides cost-effective options, intervention, education, and healthy empowerment.

Dr. Jean Boodhoo, BSc (Hons), MBBS, MRC Psych, T Psych is a registered psychiatrist and works in community ambulatory practice in the Palliser Health Region in Medicine Hat, Alberta. He is Chair of the upcoming ICAM conference. The ICAM conference runs May 23 to 25 in Toronto, Ontario. To

register or for more information visit or call (403) 580-2822.