Mental health problems have been skyrocketing in the last few years and even more so in the last 6 months of the current Covid-19 pandemic. Many of you dear readers, will be able to relate to this statement.
Thankfully, due to awareness campaigns, the stigma around mental health is lifting. However, the number of people suffering is rising and the age of onset is becoming increasingly younger.
Mental Health Australia has chosen the beautiful Australian Flannel Flower as the national symbol to promote mental health awareness.1
“The Australian bush has an inherent beauty and strength. It is also known for its extremes of weather and landscape. Varieties of the Flannel Flower are commonly found growing wild in the bush throughout Australia. The Flannel Flower, as with all native Australian plants, needs to be adaptable and enduring in order to survive.”
Flannel Flower is one of several Australian Bush Flower essences that are used by therapists to address mental health issues. Interestingly, the Flannel Flower remedy is for people who are uncomfortable with physical contact and touching. It is primarily for males and allows for gentleness, softness and sensitivity in touching. It helps males to trust their gentleness and express their feelings.
For both males and females it brings enjoyment to their physical expression.
In Australia alone, 39 million mental health-related prescriptions were provided in 2018–19 to 4.3 million patients. That’s one in six Australians. 70% of these prescriptions were Antidepressant medications.2
This is a worrying trend for the mental health of fellow Australians. More than 18,500 adverse drug reaction reports (ADRs) for antidepressants have been received by Australia’s drug regulatory agency, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), with more than 360 of those reporting deaths. Over 15,500 ADRs have also been received by the TGA for antipsychotics (including more than 600 deaths).3 Experts believe these numbers are conservative as many reactions go unreported.
Common adverse reactions may include self-harm and suicide,4 epilepsy and seizures,5 fractures (due to increased rates of falls in all age groups), and upper gastrointestinal bleeding.6 Other more common side-effects include increased appetite, weight gain, and sexual dysfunction. Given the magnitude of people being prescribed these medications, these reactions may weigh heavily on public health systems.
There is well-documented evidence for the increasing and widespread use of Complementary Medicine (T&CM) in the treatment of symptoms of both physical and mental disorders. The following therapies have been shown to help mental wellbeing.
Aromatherapy uses essential oils, plant extracts, to support mental health through massage, in the bath, or by inhalation. Aromatherapy has shown potential to be used as an effective therapeutic option for the relief of depressive symptoms in a wide variety of subjects. Particularly, aromatherapy massage showed to have more beneficial effects than inhalation aromatherapy.7 Other studies indicate essential oils may increase quality of sleep and reduce levels of anxiety in patients with coronary artery disease in intensive care units.8,9
Aromatherapy massage has been shown to be beneficial in nursing care and treatment during psychiatric hospitalization while assisting in the reduction of anxiety symptoms and coping with mental illness.10 It also improved anxiety and stress-related symptoms and the agitation associated with dementia. With this in mind, aromatherapy may have particular use in mental health and aged care environments.11
Herbal medicine is made from plants and comes in different forms such as liquids, powders, teas and ointments. Many mainstream drugs and medicines are based on constituents that come from plants. A qualified herbalist can prescribe herbal medicine to use alongside other medications and treatments.
The most famous and well-studied herb for depression is St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum L.). The available evidence suggests that hypericum extracts tested in trials are superior to placebo in patients with major depression, are similarly effective as standard antidepressants, and have fewer side effects than standard antidepressants.12 But quality and potency of the extract is key – please see a professional herbalist.
Other herbs such as Rhodiola rosea L. demonstrate encouraging results in mild to moderate depression, and generalized anxiety.13 Sage (Saliva officinalis) studies, while small, have shown a positive effect of improving mood and cognitive outcomes.14,15
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is another frequently prescribed herb for the treatment of anxiety. In one systematic review, ashwagandha led to greater improvement than placebo with a 44% reduction in scores on the Perceived Stress Scale, versus a 5.5% reduction in a placebo group.16
Homeopathic medicines originate from a variety of natural sources, mainly plants, minerals and animal products. The medicines are prepared through a process of serial succussion and dilution. Homeopathic treatment must be administered by a professional homeopath who individualises each case, treating the person rather than the complaint.
Clinical trials, including both randomised controlled trials (RCTs)17,18 and observational studies,19 have shown that homeopathy may significantly help symptoms of anxiety and depression. While research in this field is in its infancy, many trials are providing preliminary support for both the acceptability and the effectiveness of treatment by a homeopath for patients with depression.
Mindfulness is an integrative, mind-body based approach that helps people to manage their thoughts and feelings and mental health. It is becoming widely used in a range of contexts. Basically, mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the present moment.
Being in the moment helps you acknowledge, accept and cope with painful or intrusive thoughts, feelings and sensations. Mindfulness is highly recommended for recurring depression.
Mindfulness practice is simple, powerful, takes just a few minutes and can be done almost anywhere, so it can be a great addition to your everyday mental health self-care. An example of mindfulness would be to focus on your breathing. Think about how it feels when you breathe in and out.
When you practice meditation or mindfulness you learn to be more aware of your thoughts and feelings. Once you are more aware of your thoughts and feelings, you can learn to deal with them better.
Mindfulness meditation involves spending specific time focussing on your senses and allowing your thoughts to come and go calmly, without judging or trying to change them.
Mindfulness is part of several evidence-based therapies that are now widely used by psychologists in individual and group sessions,20 including:
Reiki is a Japanese word that means ‘spiritually guided life force energy’ and is a well-known energy healing therapy. It is a form of biofield therapy, which is based on the principle that fields of energy and information surround living systems and that these fields can be influenced by a practitioner to stimulate healing responses.
A therapist puts their hands on, or above, your body in certain places. They believe that they can channel energy into your biofield to help healing. There is not much research into the effects of Reiki on mental health, but research has shown that it may help with symptoms of depression. It may also help feelings of stress, anxiety, and insomnia.21
Yoga is defined as a practice consisting of three components: gentle stretching; exercises for breath control; and meditation as a mind-body intervention. There is some limited evidence that yoga can help to reduce depression, anxiety and stress.
Some interesting evidence points to the benefit of yoga on children and young people, a high risk group due to the challenges of multimedia devices competing for their attention which may contribute to stress levels.
Yoga may help this cohort cope with stress and thus, contribute positively to balance in life, well-being, and mental health. One study suggests that yoga improves children’s physical and mental well-being and that yoga in schools helps students improve resilience, mood, and self-regulation skills pertaining to emotions and stress.22
The most important thing to remember is that we are not alone, there is help when we need it. This may be in the form of community outreach groups, natural therapies, counseling, or even medication when needed.
If you or someone you care for is in need of immediate support you can contact the below National Crisis Counselling Services.
Many consumers are unaware that they can themselves report adverse side effects directly to the TGA. To report an adverse drug reaction to the TGA:
On-line, log onto: https://www.ebs.tga.gov.au/ebs/ADRS/ADRSRepo.nsf?OpenDatabase
Warnings published for psychotropic drugs https://cchr.org.au/ptanegul/2018/10/Australian-government-warnings-on-psychotropic-drugs-180801.pdf
Phone to report to a pharmacist: 1300 134 237; or to speak to the TGA: 1800 044 114
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