At a time when mental health has become the elephant in the room and the use of psychotropic drugs is becoming as common as antacids, Ayurvedic experts and clinical scientists in Ranchi claim that herbal medicines coupled with proper counseling can be an effective substitute for popping in an antidepressant every time you feel low or anxious.
Ranchi has been long known for its psychiatry institutes and the treatments they offer to patients suffering from common and severe mental illnesses. However, the use of herbal medicines to ease mental stress –a major contributor to most of the mental illnesses—is an area that remains unexplored so far. “The use of herbal medicines for treating mental illnesses has great potential. A class of plants called Medhya Rasayana has been clinically proven to improve memory and enhance cognitive functions,” said Dr. Suresh Kumar Agarwalla, an MBBS who has worked closely with patients in the psychiatry ward of Kolkata’s NRS Hospital.
Dr. Agarwalla, who runs his own practice in Ranchi, is against the use of antidepressants for common mental illnesses caused by daily stress. “First of all, counseling is must for any patient suffering from stress induced disorders. The commonly prescribed antidepressants only mask the symptoms, but do not address the root cause of it. Besides, these medicines also have side effects,” he said.
According to Agarwalla, in many cases, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI), which are commonly called antidepressants, further increase symptoms of anxiety and depression in patients. In some cases, they make patients lethargic, passive or too sleepy, he said. “Many doctors these days are in a hurry to treat patients in a short span of time, so they resort to prescribing psychotropic drugs even to patients who may get treated with counseling and lifestyle changes,” he said.
Another Ayurvedic practitioner based out of Ranchi, Dr. Akhawri Shankar, said that extracts of Ashoka tree is effectively used in treating diseases such as insomnia and dementia. Shankar also runs his own company of Ayurvedic medicines by the brand name KDS4 and sells medicines for treating mental illnesses. “There are nearly 900 types of mental diseases and around 300 of them are curable. Common disorders such as anxiety disorder and even severe ailments such as autism can be treated using Ayurvedic medicines,” he said.
Shankar added that thorough research in the field of Ayurvedic treatment for mental disorders can give major breakthroughs and help people lead better lives without the side effects of psychotropic drugs. Several scholars and even the American Psychological Association, one of the leading umbrella bodies that deals with psychiatric disorders and its treatments, has criticized the over-prescription of psychotropic drugs across the globe lately. Clinical psychologists and counselors have also voiced their reservations towards unabated use of psychotropic drugs, a practice becoming common in the younger generation in India.
“If you are in stress over a loss of job or a divorce, how can any pill make you feel better? You have to undergo counseling and address the core issue,” said Dr. Agarwalla, adding that the approach of “take a pill for every problem” was plaguing the society and making people vulnerable and fragile when it comes to dealing with challenges in life.
Psychiatrists, however, say that severe cases of mental illnesses do require the use of drugs. Dr. D Ram, Director of Central Institute of Psychiatry in Ranchi refused to comment on the effectiveness of Ayurvedic medicines claiming that it was not his area of expertise.
He, however, said that psychotropic drugs prove to be life saver in many cases of severe mental illnesses and they should not be stigmatized. “Psychiatry institutes have a multi-disciplinary approach towards patients. Common mental disorders are often treated with counseling and other forms of therapy, while the serious disorders may even require hospitalization and heavy dosage of drugs,” he said.