Few things in life are as anxiety-producing as being told you have heart disease. Many heart patients become hypervigilant, on high alert to every new twinge that may or may not signal the start of another cardiac crisis. Is this something? Is it nothing? Should I call 911? Even if symptoms are fleeting and benign, debilitating anxiety can remain. And most remedies for easing these distressing feelings come in a pill bottle. But are there other treatments for anxiety that are as good as – or perhaps better than – pharmaceuticals? It turns out that, according to patients themselves, there very well may be.
Alexandra Carmichael is the co-founder of CureTogether, a site that collects patient-reported health data. I was intrigued by one of their reports called “6,100 Patients With Anxiety Report What Treatments Work Best”. Where did this data come from? Alexandra explains:
“CureTogether members have been anonymously sharing symptoms and treatments for three years. We analyze the data into infographic form to make it accessible.”
According to CureTogether’s crowdsourced data, here are the top 25 treatments for anxiety that thousands of other Real Live Patients – not drug reps for Big Pharma – say have worked for them:
4. Spending time with animals
6. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
7. Inspiring music
10. Massage therapy
11. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
12. Deep breathing
14. Exposure therapy
17. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
18. Interpersonal therapy
22. Bio-identical hormones
23. Avoid caffeine
24. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Two facts immediately struck me about this list. First, that Spending time with animals was so highly ranked (fourth place) for reducing anxiety symptoms. (Are you surprised by this?)
Next, that out of the top 10 most effective treatments (as rated by real-life patients, not hired drug reps or industry-funded clinical trials), only three include pharmaceuticals.
So what about the effectiveness of those pharmaceuticals for depression and anxiety?
For those with debilitating mental health diagnoses, medications can indeed be lifesavers. In fact, many who could benefit from these meds may unfortunately consider taking any drugs to be a sign of weakness. It is not, of course – any more than it’s weak for a person living with diabetes to take insulin.
But as we know, pharmaceutical company hype promises the sun, the moon, the stars and freshly restored vitality by just taking a pill. Depression, for example, has gone from being what was described in the 1960s by leading medical experts as a self-limiting, episodic disorder showing spontaneous recovery without treatment after a few months to now being a more chronic, drug-managed illness. And as the CureTogether survey results suggest, there are many other remedies that are worth a try too.
Not coincidentally, this growth has paralleled that of the drug companies selling the meds. In 1955, for example, only one in 468 North Americans was diagnosed with a mental illness; by 2008 it was one in 76. And since 1987 – the year Prozac hit the market – the number of North Americans off work on disability benefits for mental health reasons has tripled.
This will be even more obvious any minute now once the 5th edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is published later this spring. The DSM is a reference text commonly known in the medical profession as the “shrink’s bible”. This book has come under attack lately (even by such heavyweights as Dr. Allen Frances, himself the editor of the 4th edition of the DSM).
Dr. Frances told a Wired magazine interviewer last year:
“This gives drugmakers a new target for their hard sell and doctors, most of whom see it as part of their job to write prescriptions, more reason to medicate.”
- Hysterical female? Just anxious? Or heart attack?
- How the ‘shrink’s bible can make you sick
- When your doctor mislabels you as an “anxious female”
- 10 non-drug ways to treat depression in heart patients
- The new country called Heart Disease
- Is it post-heart attack depression – or just feeling sad?
- A heart patient’s positive attitude: a “crazy, crazy idea”?
- Is it a heart attack – or a panic attack?