Anxiety disorders are one of the most common psychiatric disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 40 million American adults ages 18 and older suffer from them each year. The good news is that they also are highly treatable. But getting an anxious person to seek treatment can be a struggle.
Jason Eric Schiffman, MD, MA, MBA, a psychiatrist at the UCLA Anxiety Disorders programs and editor of Anxiety.org says it’s one of the paradoxes of anxiety disorders. The severity of the disorder, the fear of being stigmatized, and general mistrust of conventional treatment may create obstacles to seeking help.
What Makes Complementary and Alternative Treatments Attractive Options?
The fear of conventional therapy could explain why complementary and alternative therapies (CAT) — such as vitamin supplements and yoga and meditation — are becoming increasingly popular. There was a time not long ago when we trusted Western medicine more than alternative treatments, but today the opposite is said to be true.
What accounts for this shift? Schiffman identifies four reasons why patients may be leaning toward complementary and alternative techniques to relieve their anxiety.
1. General mistrust of pharmaceutical companies.
The 2010 movie Love and Other Drugs does a good job of explaining patients’ growing mistrust of pharmaceutical companies. In a sentence, the relationship between pharmaceutical companies and physicians has become blurred. While Hollywood exaggerates the issue, the movie raises a legitimate concern: How much influence do pharmaceutical companies have on a doctor’s decision to prescribe certain medications? “The pharmaceutical companies are, by and large, publicly traded health companies, which means they have a fiduciary responsibility to their stockholders to maximize profit and that does not always align with the goal of doing what’s best for the greatest number of people,” says Schiffman. Although there have been recent efforts to prevent bias by limiting the way physicians and pharmaceutical companies interact, the general mistrust has stayed.
2. Side effects from commonly used SSRIs.
Schiffman says there is a correlation between the “amount of desired effects that a medication has and the amount of undesired side effects.” In other words, pharmaceutical treatments used are more effective than nonconventional treatments, but they tend to come with more side effects. In the case of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of medications commonly used to treat anxiety disorders, sexual side effects can be perceived as intolerable. A previous post written by Psych Central founder and editor-in-chief John Grohol on Managing the Painful Side Effects of Antidepressants lists several of these common side effects. These reasons may be enough to pique patients’ interest in seeking alternative treatments.