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Complementary medicines in mental health
  1. U Werneke
  1. Department of General Adult Psychiatry, Sunderby Hospital, 97180 Luleå, Sweden and Umeå University, Department of Clinical Sciences—Psychiatry, 90187 Umeå, Sweden
  1. Dr U Werneke, Department of General Adult Psychiatry, Sunderby Hospital, 97180 Luleå, Sweden; uwerneke{at}

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The use of complementary medicines for mental health problems generates wide public interest. Patients, particularly when suffering from chronic mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, may use complementary medicines for a variety of reasons. Some may feel that a complementary approach is more “integrative” balancing mind and body; others may wish to gain control of their mental health problems. Again others may have been disappointed by conventional treatments.1 With the ubiquitous availability of knowledge in today’s high tech world, patients are increasingly well informed about treatment options. They may even be more knowledgeable about complementary medicines than clinicians whose experience in this area of practice is usually quite limited. Indeed, current professional regulations may make it extremely difficult for doctors to practise complementary medicine. Very rarely conventional treatment options, which a clinician is professionally bound to give preference, cannot be identified. Pharmacological complementary medicines are not subject to the same strict licensing requirements as conventional medicines, and commonly complementary remedies are just registered as food supplements rather than as medicinal substances.2


The range of complementary medicines is huge. Pharmacological options include herbal medicines and food supplements. These are further reviewed in this article in regard to the most common psychiatric problems encountered. Countless non-pharmacological options also exist, including acupuncture, transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS), aromatherapy, homeopathy, yoga, biofeedback, relaxation, meditation, hypnosis, reiki/therapeutic touch and reflexology. However, a review of all treatments would be beyond the scope of this review.


Evaluating the effectiveness of complementary medicines can be a daunting task. Perceived effectiveness may originate from anthropological sources describing the use of folk remedies over hundreds and sometimes even thousands of years. Many remedies have percolated this way, but systematically derived clinical evidence often remains limited (table 1). Regarding mental health problems, most of the evidence is …

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