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Complementary & Alternative Medicine for Mental Health Conditions

The Complementary & Alternative Medicine for Mental Health Conditions program compiles evaluations of the CAM treatments most studied, recommended and used for mental health conditions, based on the ten principal sources. CAM encompasses a broad range of non-medical substances used for treatment or prevention, from yoga to SAM-e to fish oil.

When should people interested in mental health and overall wellness consider using CAM treatments?

This program is a comparative research-based approach to that question. While some activities, like exercise, are good for everyone who is physically able to do them and have no uncontrollable side effects, most decisions about CAM treatment options, and especially the decisions faced by people coping with serious mental health conditions, involve trade-offs. Nonetheless, 40% or more of Americans self-treat themselves with CAM without professional supervision, often without disclosing it to their psychiatrist or primary care provider. Moreover, many patients who use CAM remedies also take prescription antidepressants, risking potentially dangerous adverse herb/drug interactions. While most natural psychotropics are generally safe, they are not risk free, and the common public misconception that natural products are inherently safe has been refuted by predictions and reports of toxic reactions from these agents, which may be due to intrinsic toxicity, contamination, or interaction with other herbs or drugs.

People considering using CAM treatments need to make an informed decision, just as they would with any synthetic medication or other treatment, weighing the evidence about effectiveness, drug interactions, side effects, and less dangerous options, to come up with a risk/benefit calculation. These are the issues that any physician must consider, and that anyone considering CAM treatment should consider. But the blizzard of competing claims poses a real challenge to getting efficient access to reliable evidence about safety and efficacy. This effort is an attempt to help fill this void.

Summaries and Analysis

This website presents brief summaries of each of the CAM treatments. For full, in-depth analysis of these treatments and others, download the full document.