Imagine going to your doctor to discuss how you've been feeling depressed. They may give you a short questionnaire, take a quick history and prescribe medication after a short discussion of side effects. Ten minutes later you're back in the waiting room waiting for your Medicare rebate to go through with script in hand and perhaps a suggestion for counselling. In a busy health care system, it can be hard for even the best doctor to give the best treatment possible to every patient.
Instead, imagine you've gone to an integrative medicine clinic. Your doctor spends the time to discuss your current symptoms before moving onto a thorough history of your health throughout your lifespan. Your diet, sleep, exercise and any external factors that may be impacting your wellbeing are a focus of the conversation. After some investigations to consider all possible causes of your troubling symptoms, your doctor will devise a treatment plan just for you. For one patient that may be mainstream antidepressants, Tai chi and nutritional supplements, while for another it may be meditation, bio-identical hormones and keeping a sleep diary. Your treatment will be as unique as you are.
As more Australians focus on their wellbeing and healthcare that empowers them, integrative medicine is becoming more and more popular. Integrative medicine is an exciting branch of medicine which uses both western or allopathic medicine and complementary or natural medicine to treat a person holistically. By considering the whole person in relation to the symptoms they are having integrative medicine can identify any problems and identify the best treatment, no matter what side of the western-complementary medicine divide it may come from.
Integrative medicine's strength lies three areas: taking the time to know each patient as an individual, considering both physical and emotional aspects of well-being and finally in its ability to take the best of western and complementary medicine by examining the evidence for all treatment modalities. This means treatment plans are individualised, comprehensive and with sound evidence behind them.
Integrative medicine is particularly useful for problems such as depression or low mood which have multiple causes. While antidepressant medication has a role to play for many people living with depression evidence shows it isn't the solution for everyone or something that should be recommended in isolation. A recent Australian study found that dietary changes improved mood in patients living with depression who were already utilising medication and/or psychotherapy, giving weight to the idea of using food and diet as a powerful treatment.
High-level analysis of multiple studies has found that exercise such as Tai chi has also been found to be useful in improving mood and relieving depressive symptoms, while mainstream medicine has long been aware of how changes in thyroid function can affect mental health. Integrative medicine considers information such as this to identify an all-encompassing treatment plan to tackle all aspects of problems like depression.
Remember that integrative medicine is still medicine. While your integrative medicine practitioner may end up giving you the same script for antidepressants that the doctor in the first scenario would have written, you can be confident it will come after a holistic review of your health and with the best of both western and complementary medicine to back it up.