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7 Evidence-Based Natural Mental Health Treatments

Written by Beth Holloway, RN, M.Ed
2022-05-17

When dealing with mental health issues, there’s no shortage of products you can try at home to relieve stress, reduce anxiety, or help with depression.

Perhaps you want to add something to your prescription treatment or therapy sessions. Maybe you want to avoid medication altogether? If you find yourself searching for “natural ways,” “natural remedies,” “natural therapies,” or “natural treatments,” you’ll likely miss the mark. The key is to make sure you’re finding methods that are non-prescription and evidence-based.

Moving forward, we’ll break down what this means and how you can find the right treatments to meet your needs:

Natural Treatments

When people use the word “natural” when referring to mental health treatments, they often mean “without medication or drugs.”

What Does “Natural” Mean?

Have you noticed how often you see the word “natural” on food and supplement labels? It’s actually used in many industries - clothing and textiles, pet products, cleaning supplies, and so on. It’s everywhere and, surprisingly, it’s not very well defined.

Seeing or hearing the word “natural” leads us to believe that something is healthy or good for us. According to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) policy on food labeling, “natural” simply means there’s “nothing artificial or synthetic” added to a product. What that means, exactly, is up for debate. Methods used in manufacturing aren’t included in that policy, for instance, so things like pesticides may have been used to process these otherwise “natural” ingredients. That’s not good.

“Natural” in the Context of Mental Health Treatments

With “natural” being such a unclear term, what most people are actually looking for is mental health treatment that doesn’t require a prescription and, more importantly, is proven to work.

Non-prescription Treatments

Non-prescription mental health treatments are those that don’t require a doctor or specialist. The good news? There are many choices,, such as therapymind-body techniques and nutritional supplements.

Evidence-based Treatments

Therapies and products that are “evidence-based” have been studied to make sure they don’t cause harm and that they work. In other words, there’s research to support their safety and effectiveness.

Watch for False Claims

There are many treatments that make claims that are not based on scientific studies. Whether it’s mental health issues or any other ailment, be wary of companies that use terms like “miracle,” “cure,” or even “natural” when it’s paired up with these terms. They are unlikely to work and may be unsafe. Here are some common examples you might find:

  • natural remedies, proven to work

  • natural cures for treating mental health illnesses

  • alternative therapies to cure and treat mental health

  • alternative treatments for mental health cures

  • naturopathic methods for curing mental illness

  • miracle cures and healing for mental illness.

Notice the use of “cure” and “miracle.” Those types of statements are red flags.

Goodpath’s treatments?

All of Goodpath’s mental health treatments are carefully selected. Our medical team reviews the research and then makes decisions about whether to include a supplement, exercise, mind-body technique, diet, device, or product in one of our programs. Although there are additional factors, safety and effectiveness come first. That means you can be sure that we provide only evidence-based treatments to support your mental health. No miracles. Just scientifically sound, non-prescription care.Now that you know to look for non-prescription, evidence-based ways to improve mental health, here are 7 treatments that may help reduce stress, anxiety, or depression:

7 Evidence-Based Non-Prescription Mental Health Treatments

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy (behavioral health therapy) that helps people cope with many conditions, including mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. CBT can help you identify and change unhealthy thoughts that affect both your emotions and behavior.

Can It Help with Mental Health Problems?

Yes. In fact, over 2,000 studies support the effectiveness of CBT for mental health problems and medical problems that have associated mental health issues. One study even determined that CBT can be as effective as medications to treat depression. There is a lot of evidence supporting the effectiveness of CBT for improving symptoms in people with anxiety disorders. A review of 41 studies with almost 3,000 patients compared CBT to placebo treatments. The results showed a much greater benefit for those with anxiety disorders who received CBT.

Within CBT, there are a variety of delivery methods and topics.

Types of CBT

Application-based CBT

As with Goodpath’s programs, CBT can be provided digitally without the need for face-to-face sessions. But, how well does app-based CBT work? An app-based CBT program was compared to standard CBT in two different studies of patients with depressive disorders. The app-based version, with minimal therapist support, was found to be just as effective as in-person CBT. Several analyses of multiple trials also found that app-based CBT is as effective as face-to-face CBT. The analyses found medium-to-large improvements in depression symptoms for those using app-based CBT. However, the authors noted that the data should be interpreted carefully due to a number of factors such as methods of recruiting and differences in study participants.

Unified Protocol Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

The Unified Protocol (UP) is a transdiagnostic type of CBT. Transdiagnostic means across diagnoses. So the UP is a treatment that can be applied to many mental health problems. It is different from standard CBT which focuses on one disorder (e.g. depression or anxiety). The Unified Protocol Institute at Boston University describes UP as follows: “It helps patients learn new ways of responding to uncomfortable emotions; this reduces symptoms across a patient’s range of problems.”Goodpath’s care for mental health members includes Unified Protocol CBT. It can be used to support most members’ mental health, regardless of the specific problem. Unified Protocol CBT is part of the integrative care that members in the mental health program may receive. Nutritional support, supplements and products, exercise therapy, and mind-body techniques (e.g. gratitude writing, mindfulness meditation, and relaxation exercises) may also be included.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)

CBT-I (the “I” stands for insomnia) is specifically tailored for people with insomnia. It combines cognitive therapy, behavioral treatments, and educational interventions. It is highly recommended by experts (including The American Academy of Sleep Medicine) as the first choice of treatment for those with insomnia.CBT-I will help you better understand your sleep patterns and become more mindful of your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors regarding sleep. CBT-I is a significant part of Goodpath’s sleep program, which also includes lifestyle changes, nutritional supplements, and other mind-body therapies.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Chronic Pain

CBT can also help people manage and cope with long-term (chronic) pain. It may be offered as a stand-alone treatment or combined with other treatments. It can help change the way you sense pain and manage destructive thoughts, unhealthy actions, and negative emotions associated with pain.CBT is part of Goodpath’s integrative approach for members with chronic musculoskeletal pain. Programs for MSK pain, like neck pain, low back pain, or knee pain. may also include exercise therapy, nutritional supplements, devices, over-the-counter products, diet changes, and mind-body techniques.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

CBT can help those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other digestive problems. IBS and some other digestive conditions are considered functional - meaning there are problems with the way the gastrointestinal (GI) system works or functions. Functional GI disorders are affected by the brain-gut connection (you may also see this as the “gut-brain connection”). This is the communication system between your brain, nervous system, and gut - or the GI tract. Your brain (i.e. thoughts and emotions) influence the health of your GI tract and the health of your GI tract impacts your thoughts and emotions. CBT provides the necessary skills to help improve the function of your brain-gut connection.

2. Relaxation Therapy

What is the Relaxation Response?

Relaxation is a way to counteract our natural fight or flight response (also called the stress response). This stress response is the body’s normal reaction to stressful situations - do you stay and fight or do you run away? Relaxation, on the other hand, changes your response to stress.

Relaxation techniques help lessen stress and your reaction to it. They help you feel calm, even in stressful situations. They play a role in slowing brain activity, and lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing. And, they help support mental health.Some relaxation techniques include diaphragmatic breathing, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), and guided imagery meditation. Qigong, gratitude writing, mindfulness meditation, and music therapy are also great ways to help you relax. Relaxation practices are often a component of CBT.

Can Relaxation Help with Mental Health Problems?

Yes. An analysis of 16 studies found strong evidence that relaxation techniques like mindfulness-based stress reduction (a class series on mindfulness) and applied relaxation (a muscle relaxation technique) could help people with anxiety disorders. The same study also found relaxation therapy reduced symptoms of depression.

Types of Relaxation

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic or belly (abdominal) breathing is one of the most basic relaxation skills. It involves slow, deep breathing; inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. The idea is to engage the diaphragm, feeling the abdomen move in and out with each breath. If you practice diaphragmatic breathing, it can help reduce stress.

What About Yoga?

Yoga is one of the most recognized relaxation techniques. Yoga includes body positions, movements, breathing techniques, and meditation. Yoga can benefit people with mental health conditions (e.g. depression and anxiety). Experienced yoga instructors consider “breath regulation and postures very important or essential for people with depression.” For anxiety, they recommend “relaxation, breath regulation, and meditation.”

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is another relaxation technique. It teaches you to release physical tension more effectively. Step by step, you tense and then relax muscle groups throughout your body.

What is Guided Imagery?

Guided imagery is a relaxation and stress-lowering technique in which you focus on pleasant or neutral mental images. The process of focusing on pleasant images helps you “break the train of everyday thinking.” Guided imagery is often done by following an audio or video program that leads you through the steps.

Relaxation practices play a critical role in an integrative approach to health. That’s why Goodpath includes them in our programs.

3. Qigong

What is Qigong?

Qigong is an ancient practice that is part of traditional Chinese medicine. Qigong is not one thing. It is an umbrella term covering many different forms and techniques. The practice includes a combination of body movements, deep breathing, and meditation. The Chinese have practiced it for centuries to enhance their health and well-being and improve their longevity.

Can Qigong Help with Mental Health Problems?

Yes. Qigong can help with mental health issues like depression and anxiety.Multiple studies of qigong have found it comparable to other non-medication treatments for depression (e.g. physical activity like walking). It may also be effective in lessening depression symptoms in those with other medical conditions with associated depression, like diabetes, insomnia, or high blood pressure. A review of many trials of movement-based meditation, including qigong, tai chi, and yoga, showed a decrease in the severity of depression. The same review also found an improvement in the severity of anxiety.In another review of studies of qigong’s benefits among women, some with long-term medical disorders, qigong lessened the severity of anxiety.Goodpath offers qigong, one of many different relaxation techniques in our integrative programs.

4. Gratitude Writing

What is Gratitude Writing?

Gratitude writing may be accomplished through letter-writing, creating lists, or journaling. Although you may think “grateful thoughts,” the act of writing them down is a simple way to experience them. You can also reflect on these experiences by rereading what you previously wrote.

Can It Help with Mental Health Problems?

You may be surprised to learn that practicing gratitude (i.e. being thankful) can improve your mental health. It’s actually a very powerful technique. Research links gratitude to healthy emotions and better overall health. Goodpath’s mental health program includes a mindful gratitude practice to use every day. It gives you a place to write down what you’re thankful for and to be mindfully focused on those things. It is just one part of our program that includes other relaxation techniques, exercise, nutritional support, supplements, and products.

5. Mindfulness Meditation

What is Mindfulness?

Being mindful means you are awake to the present moment. One of the leaders of the mindfulness movement, Jon Kabat-Zinn, beautifully describes mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose…in the present moment…and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.”

What is Mindfulness Meditation?

Meditation allows you to focus on something while ignoring or “tuning out” everything else. Mindfulness is one method of engaging in meditation. When you practice mindfulness meditation, you pay attention to and accept “the now” - the present moment, without judging or reacting.

Can It Help with Mental Health Problems?

Yes. Mindfulness practices can be effective in managing mental health problems.A large review and analysis of 142 studies and over 12,000 patients looked at the effectiveness of mindfulness exercises. It examined mindfulness and several different control groups, including those receiving conventional mental health treatments. The effectiveness of mindfulness practices was similar to conventional care. The findings were strongest for patients with depression. The data also supported mindfulness exercises for those with anxiety and pain, as well as substance use disorders and smoking.Mindfulness exercises may also help improve mood and lessen anxiety, depression, and stress and improve quality of life in people with long-term (chronic) health problems.

What is Mindful Walking?

Mindful walking, especially in nature, is an easy way to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life. It allows you to increase awareness of your surroundings and invite in a sense of peace and relaxation. Mindful walking has been shown to decrease stress levels and improve quality of life. It also benefits your overall physical health. You can go for a walk and practice mindfulness. Even better, Goodpath offers a mindfulness walking audio as part of our mental health program.

What is Mindful Eating?

You can practice mindfulness at every moment, even while eating. Mindful eating helps you be fully present when you eat. You focus on all of the sensations of eating while “tuning out” everything else. That means you sit down and eat without the television, your phone, or other distractions. No more eating at your desk or when driving! Goodpath also offers a mindful eating audio.

6. Music Medicine

What are Music Activities (Music Medicine)?

How do you feel when you listen to your favorite music? Or when you sing or play an instrument? For many, it can change how they feel by taking them to another place and time. Listening to music can play a role in changing your mood. It can help you refocus - changing your negative thoughts and feelings into more positive ones.Music interventions may be considered “activities” or “therapy.” While they both can help improve your mood, music therapy is provided by trained music therapists; music activities (sometimes called music medicine) don’t involve a therapist. Activities include listening to music, singing, or playing instruments. Music therapy may also include writing music or songs.

Can It Help?

Absolutely. Music can help improve mood, lessen stress, and enhance overall quality of life. An analysis of 55 studies determined the effect of music therapy and music activities on depression. Music activities significantly reduced symptoms of depression, even more so than music therapy. Researchers believe the difference may be related to the type of participants or methods used. Results of another analysis of 21 studies showed that listening to music greatly reduced anxiety in a wide range of people (e.g. different ages, with and without chronic health problems, etc.).Music helped reduce emotional symptoms like feeling anxious, restless, and nervous. It also helped lessen physical signs of stress, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and hormone levels, as shown in analyses of over one hundred studies and close to 10,000 people.Music helped improve quality of life in an analysis of close to 800 people with and without health problems, in a set of 26 studies in the United States and throughout the world.Music recordings are another technique that Goodpath offers in our mental health program.

7. Supplements and Nutrients

There are a wide variety of herbs, supplements, and nutrients recommended for mental health symptoms. Be careful, though! Many companies make false claims about how they work with adults and children (Watch those “miracle” cures).

The key here, again, is to look for solutions that are non-prescription and evidence-based.

What are Some Supplements and Nutrients for Mental Health Problems?

St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort, or Hypericum perforatum, is a flowering plant with many medicinal properties. It has been recommended for the treatment of mild to moderate depression for years. Even so, some studies show it works well, while others do not. A large review of 35 studies that included almost 7,000 adults found that St. John’s Wort worked better than placebo for the treatment of mild-to-moderate depression. The review also determined that the effects were similar to those of antidepressant medications. However, additional research is recommended.St. John’s Wort must also be used very carefully because it can interact with other herbs, supplements, and medications. You should not take St. John’s Wort with some prescription antidepressants.

L-theanine

L-theanine (or theanine) is a substance found in the green tea plant and in some mushrooms. As a supplement, it’s been used to improve relaxation and lessen anxiety. It may be helpful in lessening anxiety in those with long COVID.It is believed that L-theanine lessens anxiety by acting on several of the chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) in the brain - for example, it may increase GABA and serotonin, which have calming effects, and decrease glutamate, which has a stimulating effect. And, L-theanine may boost the brain’s alpha waves, which are associated with relaxation and calmness.One review of eight trials that included 270 patients looked at L-theanine, anxiety, and stress. The studies found that L-theanine, at certain doses, may reduce both stress and anxiety, although further study is suggested.

Omega-3 Poly-unsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs)

Omega-3 fatty acids (Omega-3s) are essential fatty acids (Omega-6s are the other type). Essential means they are necessary for good health, but, the body doesn’t make them. You have to get omega-3s through your diet or from supplements. The three main omega-3s are EPA, DHA, and ALA. They are present in certain foods or can be taken as a supplement.Studies support the use of omega-3s for the treatment of neurological and psychiatric conditions. In particular, they’ve been used to treat depression. Omega-3s may also reduce the risk of serious health conditions, like heart disease and cancer. A review of 20 studies of omega-3s in reducing symptoms of depression found only a small benefit. More study is recommended.Adults and children should get as many nutrients as possible from their diets since healthy foods have vitamins, minerals, and other ingredients essential to health. Foods that are good sources of omega-3s include:

  • Fish and other seafood. Cold-water fatty fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines) are especially good sources.

  • Nuts and seeds (e.g. flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts)

  • Plant oils (e.g. flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils)

Read labels! You’ll find omega-3s are added to certain foods. Examples include some brands of eggs, milk, yogurt, juice, and soy drinks.

You can feel great about Goodpath’s supplements. Our pharmacists carefully evaluate them, and we offer only those that are well-studied to make sure they are safe and that they work. The same is true for the nutritional counseling - it’s based on research studies from highly-respected medical journals.

Goodpath’s Approach

Goodpath provides conventional and complementary therapies in our integrative mental health program. The therapies include evidence-based, non-prescription medicines; products and devices; nutritional supplements; dietary support; exercise therapy; and mind-body treatments. Visit our mental health condition page to find out more or get started with your own custom treatment plan.