Here’s a look at different types of complementary medicine that can boost your mental health, and how a combination of Eastern and Western therapies can help with disorders like depression and anxiety.
Dealing with depression holistically
Major depressive disorder, or depression, is a disabling condition characterised by intense feelings of emptiness, worthlessness, loneliness, hopelessness and despair. It can greatly impair a person’s family, work or school life, their sleep and eating habits, and their general wellbeing.
Talk it out
In Western medicine, clinical depression is typically treated with antidepressant medication. While this may be an effective solution on its own for some, depression treatment doesn’t need to rely solely on medication. Often, a multidisciplinary approach can be beneficial. Psychotherapy (talk therapy) is one technique that can help.
DR JACOB RAJESH is a Senior Consultant Psychiatrist at Promises Healthcare, a provider that offers holistic specialist care in mental health and addictions. This includes a range of psychiatric, psychological and wellbeing services for patients of all ages.
Dr Rajesh says that, while seeing a psychiatrist for anti-depressant medication can certainly be a good first step in managing depression, psychotherapy can address the underlying causes of the depression. So, in addition to prescribing medication for moderate to severe depression symptoms, he usually recommends psychotherapy in its various forms: cognitive behavioural therapy, dialectical behaviour therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, interpersonal therapy or family therapy, depending on the psychosocial stressors. The two treatments work hand-in-hand, with the medication playing a key role in stabilising the sufferer’s chemical and biological changes.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Alternative non-drug treatment is available for people with depression who haven’t responded to anti-depressants or have severe side effects from medication. Promises is the only private centre in Singapore to offer it.
Called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), the technique uses 3,000 electromagnetic pulses to stimulate the area of the brain that regulates moods. Unlike electroconvulsive therapy, which is more for people with severe psychotic depression, TMS doesn’t require any sedation, explains Dr Rajesh. The patient remains alert and awake for the entire outpatient procedure, and there are no major side effects. Typically, 20 to 30 sessions are required, lasting 40 minutes each.
This type of treatment can also complement anti-depressants. “If anti-depressants alone aren’t helping, TMS can augment the medication,” says Dr Rajesh. In fact, he says it’s best to take medication alongside TMS, as it’s possible for the patient to relapse once the treatment stops.
Melding modern and traditional
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an ancient system of wellness that dates back thousands of years. While Western medicine focuses on treating the specific ailment, TCM looks at the body holistically. It also emphasises energy and balance.
PEH WEI JIE is a physician at One Wellness Medical, a holistic healthcare practice that combines conventional Western medical practices and complementary TCM services. So, in addition to general medical consultations and screening packages, preventative and family medicine are augmented at One Wellness with TCM herbal medication, acupuncture, cupping therapy and other ancient Eastern practices. The idea is to provide the “best of both worlds” to achieve the best possible patient outcomes.
Two modes of medication
“Modern Western medicine includes surgery and, most commonly, single-molecular drugs,” says Peh. “And Western medicine typically has rapid or immediate effects. That’s why it’s highly effective for life-threatening conditions. However, these drugs may have potential damage to other parts of the body. The drug efficacy might be longer, but TCM can be safer, as secondary after-effects are minimised.”
He adds: “TCM herbal medications are designed to prevent adverse effects and clear the root cause of the disease.” This is why combination therapy can be key – Western medicine to alleviate current symptoms and TCM herbal medication to address the root cause of disease, and to prevent re-occurrences. “The two modes of medication work in different ways, but can be synergised to achieve a better combined effect for the patient’s symptoms.”
As with any kind of medicine, different individuals have different requirements. “TCM herbal medication is a personalised and precision-based medication, and must be tailored to an individual’s symptoms and needs,” explains Peh. Therefore, it’s important to seek a licensed certified TCM practitioner for a detailed diagnosis.
Acupuncture is a holistic TCM approach that’s aimed at relieving pain and treating diseases by clearing the body’s energy, or Qi, pathways. To do this, hair-thin needles are used to target specific areas of the skin, known as acupoints. Each acupoint corresponds to an organ in the body, and the needles are inserted accordingly. The sterilised, disposable needles are so thin that most people feel nothing more than a slight tingling sensation when inserted.
Both One Wellness Medical locations offer acupuncture treatment. Sessions last about 20 to 30 minutes.
The treatment can be effective in relieving all kinds of ailments and pain syndromes. Peh says that many patients with lower back pain, osteoarthritis, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia and other pain syndromes report improved relief with acupuncture, in conjunction with the antiinflammatory and preventive Western medications.
Acupuncture can also play an important role in anxiety and other mental health disorders, says Peh.
“Medications present limited efficacy and poor drug responses for certain individuals, as well as various adverse effects such as nausea and insomnia. Patients also often face slow outcomes and high recurrence rates. By complementing Western medication with acupuncture, hormones can be stimulated to relieve anxiety, minimise adverse reactions and reduce the recurrence rates of anxiety disorders,” he explains.
Transforming mental health services in Singapore
When it comes to counselling and wellness services in Singapore, one name pops up frequently and with good reason. Singapore American Community Action Council (SACAC) Counselling is Singapore’s market-leading comprehensive mental health practice. It uses a range of evidence-based and technologically advanced techniques to provide holistic psychological support such as counselling, psychotherapy, expressive therapy, neurodevelopmental and psychometric assessments, and personality assessments for kids and adults.
Within walking distance of Orchard MRT, The American Club, and The Tanglin Club, SACAC Counselling’s central Orchard premises houses a team of multicultural and multilingual counsellors, clinical psychologists and an educational psychologist. Together, they are able to address various needs, from emotional and behavioural, to psychological and relationship issues.
Consultations are provided in person and virtually via various platforms seven days a week until late, with clients based both within Singapore and beyond. Importantly, SACAC Counselling believes in providing support within 48 hours of a client making contact, so you can receive help from their team when you most need it.
The benefits of evidence-based therapy
Established in 1973, SACAC Counselling was created by a group of parents to support teens in the community. Today, SACAC Counselling continues to grow under the helm of director Vinti Mittal, a counsellor with 15 years of experience in the psychology field.
Great efforts are made to ensure that clients are matched to the correct therapist based on their needs, preferences and expectations. It’s also noteworthy that the SACAC Counselling team speaks 14 languages between them! Needless to say, being able to access therapy in their native language is a huge drawcard for clients.
What services does SACAC Counselling offer?
Private one-to-one work. SACAC Counselling is recognised for its evidence-based, best practice approach. Individualised techniques include solution-focused therapy, image-transformation therapy, emotion-focused therapy, Gothman couple therapy, and more.
Employee Assistance Program (EAP). SACAC Counselling’s experienced team assists many large organisations in Singapore, helping them support their employees and provide well-being services.
Critical incident services. Following a traumatic event, SACAC Counselling’s diverse team of highly qualified and experienced practitioners are well-positioned to offer support. This is whether the crisis stems from the workplace or otherwise. They provide support in person, via structured telephonic counselling or on-site. They can also assist with providing expert references for medical or non-medical needs.
Group work. SACAC Counselling studies trends to identify groups of society requiring additional support, such as adolescents and new mums. This group setting provides non-judgemental and structured therapy and is an invaluable resource.
Wellness support. Through focus groups, workshops and interactive sessions, SACAC’s customised solutions are aimed at promoting well-being in the workplace through managing stress and cultivating awareness, resilience and sustainability within organisations.
The power of aromatherapy
As one of the world’s oldest forms of natural medicine, aromatherapy uses essential oils – plant extracts that capture the plant’s scent and therapeutic properties – to promote emotional and physical wellness. It remains popular today for its moodboosting and stress-relieving benefits.
Essential oils can be inhaled with a diffuser or mist, or applied directly to the skin with roll-ons, natural perfumes, bath oils and compresses. Whether inhaled or topically applied, the therapeutic components from the oils stimulate the area of the brain that plays a role in emotions and behaviours. This, in turn, can have advantageous effects on the body, both physically and mentally.
My Pure Earth is a Singapore-based company that sources pure and potent essential oils from sustainable farms around the world. Each of the brand’s essential oil blends is hand-blended in Singapore, and free of toxins. They can be used to boost moods, calm the mind and alleviate symptoms of common ailments. There are even blends to help with sinus relief, jet lag, improved sleep and mental focus and more.
Popular essential oils
While aromatherapy alone can’t treat a disorder like depression, using it alongside other treatments can prove valuable. Here are some of My Pure Earth’s most popular products, and the mental health benefits associated with them.
- Peppermint Essential Oil. This strong, refreshing aroma has been known to help with mental fatigue, depression and even headache relief.
- Frankincense Essential Oil. A balsamic, woody and spicy fragrance that supports clear, deep breathing, this is a great oil to use during meditation to balance the mind.
- Rose Essential Oil. This sweet, floral scent can help soothe headaches and balance hormones. It can alsohelp “strengthen the heart in periods of high stress, grief and depression”.
- Dreamtime Essential Oil Blend. Certified organic lavender essential oil is mixed with bergamot and sweet orange essential oils to create a floral, citrusy aroma that calms the mind, eases tension and helps support sleep.
- Stress Less Essential Oil Blend. Bergamot, clary sage and lavender essential oils are combined to help release tension and provide that much-needed natural dose of calm.
My Pure Earth founder MARRA HENSBY recommends using the brand’s popular Meraki diffuser to inhale the aromas. The sleek and sustainable diffuser can be programmed to mist continuously for up to nine hours, or mist intermittently for up to 18 hours. It even doubles as a night-light!
Diffuser jewellery is another great way to experience the “superpowers” of essential oils, says Marra. Bracelets and necklaces made from lava stones – known for their balancing properties and absorbent texture – and gemstone beads can be rubbed with a drop or two of essential oil, then worn throughout the day as the aromas are released. My Pure Earth has nine different gemstones to choose from. They include amethyst, which is thought to promote mental tranquillity.
Find out more at mypureearth.com.
This article first appeared in the June 2022 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!