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Medicate Or Meditate? An Overview Of The Treatments For Anxiety And Depression

CW: This article discusses topics of mental illness that could be distressing to some readers

Conventional vs Alternative

Mental health refers to our psychological and emotional well-being, struggles with mental health are far from a new problem in society. However, there has been a significant increase over recent years in the number of people suffering from common mental health problems. There is no exact reason for this. However, various factors such as an isolating lockdown, the toxic environment that is social media and the immense pressures and expectations of modern-day society might have had a little something to do with it. Because of this, there is high pressure across the globe to find a solution. Societies have looked at the old and the new, scientific and alternative plus many other methods and treatments, in search of a way to help stop mental health deterioration.

The type of support required will differ from person to person due to how an individual uniquely experiences a mental illness and their personal views on mental health. Which is influenced by; surroundings, age, gender, sexuality, heritage, faith and life experiences. This is how the vast variety of approaches to combatting mental illnesses have emerged.

As of right now, there are two main approaches and intriguingly they contrast in many ways.

Holistic medicine is an alternative form of healthcare that looks at the whole person and embraces the connections of body, mind, emotions and spirit to physical and mental health. Whereas, Western medicine is a conventional form of healthcare in which professionals respond to specific symptoms and illnesses with scientific solutions. Although the two may appear to oppose each other, when concerning mental health they have been seen to work simultaneously. Where the science of modern society fails to provide all the answers, alternate methods are sought out and integrated into our lives. From ice baths and yoga to psychologists and meds. People have tried and tested it all. But how do we know which is the most effective?

No one cause. No one cure.

Some of the most common mental health problems today are anxiety disorders and depression, affecting more people than any other mental health problem.

As stated by the NHS,

No single cause unfortunately means no single cure, but this does NOT mean there is no help. There are so many ways to live a happy and fulfilling life with mental illness.

The most recognised treatments are pharmacotherapies (such as antidepressants) and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). These types of treatments have been successful, with around 50%–65% of patients with anxiety disorders benefitting from CBT or antidepressants. Nevertheless, it does come with its downsides. Whilst medications help improve the symptoms of mental illnesses, they do not work for everyone and can have negative side effects. Therapy is also criticised for limited accessibility due to its high cost. Therefore, people who experience mental health problems and those who don't might incorporate small acts of mindfulness to enhance their day-to-day lives.

For some, hearing mindfulness or holistic makes them think of an incense-filled room of crystals and chanting. However, this doesn’t have to be the case.

The basic definition of mindfulness according to the Oxford dictionary is:

This can be done in whatever way is comfortable. But the most popular ways to practice is through simple tasks such as journaling, meditation, breathing techniques etc. These methods of self-improvement are easily implemented and available at one’s fingertips, without the commitment and costs of traditional therapy and medication.

Lots of people in the modern world are using mindfulness in their daily lives but the ideas are rooted in Buddhism practices from over 2,500 years ago. History shows that this Eastern tradition only gained popularity across the West once integrated with western science. Suggesting, that our society only recognises unfamiliar knowledge as valuable after it is established through figures and statistics, which can only be achieved through costly research and publications. Meaning there is a world of potential solutions to the ongoing rise of mental health problems but our society’s reluctance to look beyond western knowledge is preventing us from progression.

Doing what works for you

The key distinctions between conventional and alternate methods of treating mental health problems are that Western medicine treatments focus on specific issues within the brain, occurring from the activity of chemicals affecting mood and wellbeing. Compared with holistic approaches to mental health, which instead, encourage looking inwards and treating the whole person rather than just symptoms.

Despite the fact that conventional approaches to health and wellbeing currently dominate western society, when it comes to something less predictable, like mental health, we are forced to be more open-minded. For instance, If someone broke their arm you wouldn’t recommend they search inwards and focus their mind. You would send them to a hospital. But mental health isn’t as straightforward as a problem to a solution. So, we test and integrate ancient and alternative methods into modern-day science to improve, not solve mental health problems.

Even the NHS now recognises and even recommends practising mindfulness through meditation, yoga and tai-chi to improve our mental wellbeing.

Whilst mindfulness practices alone may help one person out of depression, medication might be an absolute necessity for someone else, and others may use a combination of all different types of treatments. It also depends on the severity.

Society needs to continue working on removing stigmas around treating mental illness.

You don’t have to choose whether to medicate or meditate.

I believe that aslong as you have enough awareness of your mental health to recognise when help is needed, partaking in any kind of treatment that maintains a healthy mind and works for you is positive. Being proactive with mental health issues is the most important takeaway because ignoring will never improve and the consequences of taking no action will always be worse than giving something a chance.


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