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Different Strokes: Whole Health, CAM and Lifestyle When It Comes to Recovery, Many Approaches Can Help By Courtney Reyers, NAMI Director of Publishing
iving with mental illness often necessitates a full mind-bodyspirit approach for many people. In addition to medications, there are multiple methods, supplements, approaches and lifestyle choices that can aid in recovery management for individuals living with mental health challenges. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a term used in the health care field for practices that are not part of standard care; in a nutshell, it means using practices that historically have not been part of U.S. medical treatment. According to the National Institutes of Health
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(NIH), “complementary” generally refers to using a non-mainstream approach together with conventional medicine. “Alternative” refers to using a non-mainstream approach in place of conventional medicine. It’s a good idea to make sure that a healthy diet, regular exercise program and good sleep patterns are part of your daily life—especially if you have mental health concerns. However, incorporating natural products, alternative approaches and mind/body practices can be beneficial to everyone—not just people living with mental illness. Below, you’ll find a brief overview of some of the most commonly used and beneficial CAM
elements, as well as elements of good overall health that have been shown to aid recovery. Be sure to consult with your health care provider before incorporating any additions into your regimen. Diet and Exercise Regular exercise (most experts recommend at least 30 minutes per day) helps maintain body weight, relieve stress and keep your heart healthy. The foods we eat—allergies or not—can certainly have an effect on our bodies, moods and other areas of wellbeing. For more tools, like food and exercise logs, visit www.nami.org/heartsandminds.
Omega-3 Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of related chemicals that have been identified in a number of different foods but are primarily found in fish. Two specific omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), have been identified as being useful in the treatment of both medical and mental illnesses. While the exact manner in which these chemicals are beneficial is not known, it is thought that they are helpful in decreasing systemic inflammation, a potentially harmful process that occurs throughout the brain and body. Scientific research has shown that inflammation can be a contributing factor to developing schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses. It has also been found that people who have died by suicide have lower levels of Omega-3s present in their brains. For many people, omega-3 fatty acids will be most useful as a supplemental treatment along with other regularly prescribed psychiatric medications (e.g., antidepressants and antipsychotics). Omega-3s are not FDAapproved for the treatment of psychotic illnesses and could possibly carry other health risks if not monitored, so check with your health care provider before incorporating fish oil into your regimen. Acupuncture and Massage Acupuncture is a component of traditional Chinese medicine that involves penetrating the skin to stimulate particular areas of the body. The theory behind this method is that stimulating specific points in the body can correct imbalances in the flow of energy through channels known as meridians. This practice can aid people in a variety of health matters, from smoking cessation to headaches and even fertility. Research has shown that acupuncture can provide relief from symptoms of anxiety and depression. Massage helps millions of people relieve stress, relax and soothe tight muscles, but research studies