Advances in the understanding of the causes of mental illness have important implications for therapeutic uses of complementary and alternative (CAM) therapies in the treatment of depressed mood, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental health problems. Recently, innovative new approaches to understanding and treating mental illness have emerged into the mainstream. Integrative mental health care is a rapidly emerging paradigm that combines prescription medications, psychotherapy and a range of evidence-based CAM therapies. Highly purified natural products are now widely used to treat depressed mood and other mental health problems. Omega-3 essential fatty acids derived from fish oil, kelp or flaxseed oil have beneficial effects at many levels in the body and brain and are commonly recommended by family doctors and psychiatrists to increase the beneficial effects of antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and other psychotropic medications.

Mitochondrial psychiatry is a recently introduced theory which hypothesizes that genetic or acquired factors that interfere with mitochondrial energy metabolism predispose certain individuals to developing bipolar disorder or other severe chronic psychiatric disorders. N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) is an amino acid that is being investigated for its potential role as a mitochondrial modulator that may mitigate symptoms of bipolar disorder. It has been suggested that beneficial effects of widely prescribed mood stabilizers are related to their effects on mitochondrial metabolism. 

While some CAM modalities are strongly supported by research findings from large well-designed studies however many CAM therapies are widely used in the absence of strong evidence. Functional medicine is an interdisciplinary discipline that conceptualizes the causes of illness in relationship to informational changes in intercellular communication processes that cause illness. Functional medicine approaches used in mental health care include dietary modification, amino acid therapy, and supplementation with high doses of specific vitamins and minerals.

In addition to the above therapies based on well known biological mechanisms of action, so-called “energy” therapies, including Reiki, qigong, Healing Touch, and energy psychology are widely used to treat mental health problems. Energy therapies pose complex challenges to contemporary Western-style research methods. A more complete understanding of clinical benefits associated with light, electricity, and sound, as well as so-called “energy” therapies, may require conceptual advances in the foundations of science and medicine and greater openness to emerging models of physics including complexity theory, quantum mechanics, and quantum information theory.

To find out more about the emerging paradigm of integrative mental health care, check out the author's 10-volume series of ebooks


The Integrative Mental Health Solution, 10 e-books on non-pharmacologic treatments of mental health problems, James Lake

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Integrative Mental Health Care

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