Complementary and alternative treatments in psychiatric out-patients

Richard Sankar , Peter Childs

The use of complementary or alternative medicines or treatments in the general population is high – in the UK some 46% can be expected to use one or more in their lifetime (Bishop & Lewith, 2008). Despite the popularity of alternative treatments, we were unable to find any data examining usage among psychiatric patients. To investigate this, we conducted a survey of out-patient attenders at our general psychiatry clinics; 87 consecutively attending patients were asked about their use of alternative therapies.

We found that 8 (9%) patients were using complementary or alternative treatments: 3 aromatherapy oils, 1 oil of evening primrose, 1 chondroitin, 1 homeopathy, 1 Reiki therapy and 1 patient using a compound called Adutwumwaa Bitters. This preparation contains rauwolfia vomitoria, from which reserpine is obtained. Reserpine can cause depression through monamine depletion in synaptic vesicles.

We advocate that psychiatrists should routinely ask about the use of alternative treatments when assessing patients, as often patients do not volunteer this information to their doctors (Kamerow, 2007). It is possible that certain preparations or therapies may interact with medical treatments. This may contribute to the development, or exacerbation, of a psychiatric disorder.