Traditional, complementary, and alternative medicine approaches to mental health care and psychological wellbeing in India and China

Author: 
Jagadisha Thirthalli*, Liang Zhou*, Kishore Kumar, Jie Gao, Henna Vaid, Huiming Liu, Alex Hankey, Guojun Wang, Bangalore N Gangadhar, Jing-Bao Nie, Mark Nichter
Publication date: 
19 May 2016

India and China face the same challenge of having too few trained psychiatric personnel to manage effectively the substantial burden of mental illness within their population. At the same time, both countries have many practitioners of traditional, complementary, and alternative medicine who are a potential resource for delivery of mental health care. In our paper, part of The Lancet and Lancet Psychiatry's Series about the China–India Mental Health Alliance, we describe and compare types of traditional, complementary, and alternative medicine in India and China. Further, we provide a systematic overview of evidence assessing the effectiveness of these alternative approaches for mental illness and discuss challenges in research. We suggest how practitioners of traditional, complementary, and alternative medicine and mental health professionals might forge collaborative relationships to provide more accessible, affordable, and acceptable mental health care in India and China. A substantial proportion of individuals with mental illness use traditional, complementary, and alternative medicine, either exclusively or with biomedicine, for reasons ranging from faith and cultural congruence to accessibility, cost, and belief that these approaches are safe. Systematic reviews of the effectiveness of traditional, complementary, and alternative medicine find several approaches to be promising for treatment of mental illness, but most clinical trials included in these systematic reviews have methodological limitations. Contemporary methods to establish efficacy and safety—typically through randomised controlled trials—need to be complemented by other means. The community of practice built on collaborative relationships between practitioners of traditional, complementary, and alternative medicine and providers of mental health care holds promise in bridging the treatment gap in mental health care in India and China.