Many people have tried at least one form of alternative medical treatment for one ailment or another, such as saw palmetto extract for prostate problems or avoiding wheat products to ease the pain of celiac disease. Many of these non-pharmaceutical interventions are widely accepted, even by doctors. In fact, medical studies are proving that quite a few of the vitamins, supplements, tonics, exercises, and diets long touted for various illnesses can be effective, and they often do not carry the same risks and side effects as prescription drugs.
But before you leave your psychiatrist for the nearest health food store or alternative healthcare provider, there are two things you should know.
First, it is very unwise to rely solely on alternative measures to treat bipolar disorders, with the possible exception of mild cyclothymia or seasonal affective disorder. The risks of going without medical treatment include death by suicide or accident, and the terrible personal consequences of self-injurious behavior, manic spending sprees, hypersexuality, and all the rest. Parents must be especially careful to ensure proper medical care for bipolar children and adolescents, as minds and bodies cannot develop properly when a child is in the throes of depression, mania, or psychosis.
Second, there is much misinformation regarding alternative treatments. Botanical formulas can differ wildly in their potency, both from manufacturer to manufacturer, and from vial to vial. There is also a potentially dangerous lack of scientific and regulatory oversight in this field, and sometimes a blatantly anti-science attitude. Some alternative practitioners are well-trained and highly competent, while others are charlatans.
Accordingly, you must be wary of the claims you read in advertisements, in magazine and newspaper articles, or on the Internet. Check the credentials of alternative practitioners before you heed their advice, especially if it involves expensive tests or remedies. And be doubly doubtful if an alternative practitioner encourages you or your child to forego prescription medications. None of the herbal remedies or other alternative treatments available today is known to cure bipolar disorders; in fact, if you see or hear such claims, you should be highly suspicious right away.
Your experience may differ from that of U.S. patients, depending on where you live. In Germany, for example, standardized herbal remedies are available by prescription and are widely used. There have also been more clinical trials of herbal formulas in Europe. However, parents must still research carefully and proceed with caution, especially if they are planning to use an herbal remedy at the same time as a prescription drug.
Despite the ease with which adults demand the latest prescription pill for everything from premature balding to weight loss, many people are very much against giving psychiatric medications to children. Well-meaning friends and relatives may approach you with information about natural cures for childhood behavior problems or mental illness, and get angry if you say you’re not interested. Often these people either don’t know your child’s actual diagnosis, or have no idea what a serious illness it is. Just as you have a right to consider alternative medical treatments, you also have a right to stick with your doctor’s regimen–especially if it’s working.
–Lynn, mother of 11-year-old Michael (diagnosed BPI with mixed states and psychosis, OCD, tic disorder)