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Healthy Living and Alternative/Holistic Care Articles

This is a selection of guest articles written by practitioners and others. To find more items, you can also see the news section or our blog.

Natural remedies for mental health issues

Photo: Mortar & Pestle

More and more people are using alternative remedies to treat mental health problems such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), depression, and schizophrenia. A number of these remedies are described in this article.


Exercise caution in reading this article. Even if a statement made about alternative therapies is accurate, it may not apply to you or your symptoms. The medical information provided here is, at best, of a general nature and cannot be substituted for the advice of a medical professional (i.e. a qualified naturopath, physician, nurse, or pharmacist).

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that follows a seasonal pattern which becomes worse during the darker winter months and returns every year at roughly the same time.

Light Therapy

Light therapy is uniquely, though not universally, effective in treating SAD. Cells in the retina of the eye respond to varying levels of light, signaling the presence of a pacemaker-like device in the brain which controls some of the body's rhythms. One of the cycles it controls is the production of the hormone, melatonin. Melatonin levels rise in the evening, helping to induce sleep, and fall in response to morning light.

The body clocks of people with SAD apparently don't adjust to winter's later dawns and earlier sunsets, affecting melatonin levels, and consequently, their mood when they're awake.

The most common light therapy device is a box containing fluorescent lights mounted on a metal reflector. The light box is fitted with a plastic screen to filter out damaging ultra-violet frequencies.

Light boxes work most effectively when users sit nearby at a prescribed distance and height, keeping their eyes open and looking ahead or slightly downward.

Experts usually recommend about 10,000 lux which is more or less equivalent to early morning sunlight. During the fall, fifteen minutes of 10,000 lux once a day, right after waking, may be sufficient. Light exposure can gradually be increased to 30-45 minutes per session. Persons with severe SAD may need longer exposure, perhaps in two sessions, up to about an hour and a half per day. If symptoms don't improve in four to six weeks, light therapy should be re-evaluated and other measures considered.

Potential Side effects

Light therapy has a few side effects, usually headache, fatigue, irritability, and eyestrain. However, if the dose is lowered (i.e. sessions are shortened or the distance from the light source is increased), the side effects will be reduced. Sometimes a person with bipolar disorder may develop mania as a result of light therapy. Anyone with photosensitive skin, a retinal condition, or a diabetes-related problem should not use light therapy.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids work well in preventing SAD. They are found in fish (most abundantly in oily species like salmon and tuna) and cod liver oil. But due to the dangerously high mercury levels in almost all fish, the risk of mercury to your health now outweighs the benefits of omega-3 in fish.

Carlson's fish and cod liver oil is one of the few brands that is free of mercury and PCBs; is properly processed; and contains a therapeutic dose of vitamin E that prevents the oil from going rancid in your body. It's best to get Carlson's fish or cod liver oil from your local health food store.


Essential oils can stimulate specific areas of the brain to release serotonin and help alleviate the symptoms of SAD.

Oils most commonly used to relieve SAD include bergamot, frankincense, geranium, chamomile, lavender, marjoram, and citrus-derived oils. Inhaling these oils is the most effective way to stimulate the brain and limbic system.

Exercise and Deep Breathing

Exercise and deep breathing are important for elevating mood. Outdoor exercise will add the bonuses of fresh air and sunlight, even on a cold, cloudy day.


Sadness, general apathy towards everyday activities and events, a sense of worthlessness, and, at times, suicidal tendencies characterize people who suffer from depression. This mood disorder may be triggered by a tragic event such as mourning or have no apparent cause.

St. John's Wort

St. John's Wort is the classic herb for treating depression. It is excellent for mild to some moderate cases of depression.

While using St. John's wort, be sure to enjoy the sun. The sun seems to actually activate the antiviral and antidepressant properties of St. John's wort.

Potential Side effects

Some people taking St. John's wort report skin problems after extended exposure to the sun. If, after first use, a change in skin occurs after a day in the sun, stop using St. John's wort and find an alternative.

St. John's wort also interacts with some drugs. Specifically, it identifies drugs such as the anti-AIDS drug, AZT, as poisons and clears them out of the body so quickly that they can't do their antiviral work.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are also a treatment for depression (see treatment for SAD above).


A few years ago, a groundbreaking experiment took place at Duke University in North Carolina. A group of 156 adults, all of whom were diagnosed with major depression, were randomly assigned to three treatment categories: exercise; Zoloft; and a combination of both. The exercisers engaged in brisk walking, jogging, or stationery bicycle riding three times per week. At the end of the four-month period, all three groups had "vastly improved" or were "symptom-free."

However, a follow-up study completed ten months after the beginning of treatment displayed a remarkable difference with regard to the durability of these different treatments. The follow-up analysis examined what percentage of subjects whose symptoms had fully remitted at when all forms of treatment had ended suffered a return of depressive symptoms. Subjects who had continued their to exercise were least likely to become depressed. Investigator, James Blumenthal, said his findings suggest that exercise 'is an effective, robust treatment for patients with major depression.'


SAM-e (pronounced "sammy") is the user-friendly name for S-adenosylmethionine, a chemical found in every cell of our bodies. It helps form vital compounds like DNA and the neurotransmitters which relay messages between nerve cells.

Healthy, well-nourished people seem to make all the SAM-e they need. But this is not the case for people with depression. SAM-e is now available as an over-the-counter dietary supplement.

Studies have been performed since the 1970s to investigate the effectiveness of SAM-e on depressed persons. SAM-e pills reportedly relieved the symptoms of moderate depression almost as well as the prescription antidepressant, imipramine. SAM-e also seems to cause fewer side effects than the drug.

Potential Side Effects

The side effects of using SAM-e, typically nausea or mild stomach upset, are infrequent. Researchers don't have safety studies on people taking large amounts of SAM-e for years, but it has been used as a prescription drug in Europe for two decades with no major side effects reported.


Schizophrenia usually strikes young people between the ages of 15 and 30. Not everyone will experience the same symptoms, but some symptoms, such as hearing voices, are common to many. Schizophrenia alters the way people think and feel, so that perceptions may be changed and thinking can be disturbed. Often, people with schizophrenia lose touch with reality. This is very disabling for them and distressing for their families.

Orthomolecular medicine

Abram Hoffer, M.D., Ph.D., an internationally recognized physician and pioneer, has spent the last five decades conducting research into orthomolecular medicine (the use of megadoses of vitamins and minerals) to treat schizophrenia.

"By 1960, a large number of American psychiatrists had joined us, and by 1970, I think we had a collective experience of over 100,000 schizophrenic patients treated," said Dr. Hoffer in an interview in 2003. "The results were really good. They weren't perfect-we've never claimed that-but they were certainly an awful lot better than what you get today by simply taking drugs."

You can access the name of an orthomolecular practitioner by going to the following website: http://www.orthomolecular.org/resources/pract.shtml#ca and clicking on Canada.


  • Cooksley, Valerie, MASSAGE MAGAZINE, January/February 2005, pp. 100-102.
  • Willard, Terry, Alive: Canadian Journal of Health & Nutrition, January 2006, Issue 279, pp. 68-69.
  • Harvard Women's Health Watch, February 2005, pp. 6-7.
  • Johnsgard, Keith, Conquering Depression & Anxiety Through Exercise (New York: Prometheus Books, 2004.), p. 158.
  • Life Extension; Vitamins and Minerals Help Fight Off Diseases of The Mind and The Body-Interview with Abram Hoffer, M.D., Ph.D., January 2003, Vol. 9 Issue 1, pp. 65-68.
  • Mercola, Joseph, How to Beat Depression and Boost your Mood with Foods
  • EcycloBio
  • Schardt, David, SAM-e So-So, Nutrition Action Health Letter, March 2001, Vol. 28, Issue 2, p. 10.
  • EcycloBio Lexicon
  • world-schizophrenia.org
  • orthomolecular.org
This article was written by freelance researcher and writer, Grace Cherian. You may visit her at her website www.gracecherian.com.

direct link: http://naturalhealthcare.ca/articles/natural_remedies_for_mental_health_issues.phtml



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