The following information is a summary of the findings of two reviews of the evidence of the effectiveness of complementary and self help treatments for depression and anxiety, published in the Medical Journal of Australia "Effectiveness of complementary and self-help treatments for anxiety disorders, Effectiveness of complementary and self-help treatments for depression".
Alternative or complementary therapies are ones involving practices and beliefs that are not generally upheld by the conventional health system in Western countries. Self-help treatments are those that can be used without necessarily consulting a doctor or health professional.
Many Australians prefer self-help and complementary therapies for anxiety and depression. For example, in a national sample, 57% regarded vitamins, minerals, tonics or herbal medicines as likely to be helpful for treating depression, compared with 29% who regarded antidepressants as likely to be helpful. People in the community have also been found to use self-help interventions more commonly than professional treatments when they have anxiety and depressive symptoms. In one survey, the most commonly used self-help interventions over a six-month period were taking alcohol to relax (55% of respondents), taking pain relievers (55%) or becoming involved in physical activity (50%), compared with 35% who consulted a general practitioner, 20% who took antidepressants, and 4% who received psychotherapy.
Given the frequent use of complementary and self-help treatments, it is important for general practitioners and others who are treating people for depression and anxiety to routinely ask them if they are using other types of therapies as well. An important reason is to prevent interactions between the complementary therapies and conventional treatments with potentially harmful effects.
Given their frequent use and the benefits that some people find, complementary and self-help therapies warrant the same degree of evaluation as conventional treatments. The community needs information about which treatments are likely to be effective, which are not, and which have not been adequately evaluated, to help people to make better choices. If they choose to use alternative therapies, it is preferable that they use those best supported by evidence. For severely depressed people, only conventional medical treatment is supported by evidence.
Alternative and self help therapies can be grouped under the following categories: medicines and homoeopathic remedies, physical treatments, lifestyle, and dietary changes.
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