Can we cure ourselves of mental illness in certain cases?

This probably ought to be in General Questions or maybe even Great Debates, but I’m posting it here because I don’t mind receiving replies that are more anecdotal in nature.

After reading over this thread I saw a few comments stating more or less that it is a bad idea to attempt to get over clinical depression on one’s own. I’m wondering to what degree this is true.

The only evidence I have here is my own. For a large part of my childhood, I was extremely frustrated with myself and my life, feeling that I was a worthless person and that I didn’t “deserve” to be alive, and wanted to die. I was extremely, debilitatingly shy to the point that I generally didn’t play with other children but just stayed in a corner by myself playing games. I was socially awkward and had no idea of what sorts of comments were appropriate to make in public. This was all made worse by the fact that I was tormented by my classmates in school and on a few occasions they implied that they wished I would die.

Eventually I started making friends, getting over my neuroses, gaining a great deal of self-confidence, and living more or less a normal, well-adjusted, happy life. I did not ever receive any therapy or go to anyone for help because I felt that what was happening to me was my own fault, that I deserved it, and that I shouldn’t burden anyone else with my negative feelings. So I wonder if I somehow gave myself the therapy I needed? I still have bad days but I have never even come close to the way I used to feel every day.

In some (but not all) ways I can strongly relate to the childhood you describe. I too was depressed and I hadn’t actually seen a psychologist until my 30s. Before that time, like you, I believe I did indeed heel myself of many many problems through concerted effort. Yes you can help yourself, and probably even more so if you are reading good self-help books…

That being said, my experience with a psychologist has been very good and it’s obvious that it will typically speed things up enormously.

I think it’s normal for troubled children and teens to get better as they grow up. Also, to the extent that your problems were made worse by the bullies, that could be considered not chronic depression but situational depression, which can get better when a person’s life improves.

I do think that an adult whose external circumstances are constant can help themselves to some extent, but I also think that has little to do with your case.

It sounds to me like it’s possible that what you’re describing may not be mental disorder as such, but rather your brain growing and developing at a different rate than those of other people. In other words, social interaction requires certain brain wiring to be in place, and it may be that that wiring got laid down for you at a different time than for some of the other kids around you.

This is not meant to minimize your experiences, and certainly depression can be an outgrowth of that kind of situation. I’m only saying that the resolution may have had a purely organic aspect as well as elements of self-therapy.

This might be one of those things that comes down to definitions: I don’t think you were mentally ill - not all problems are illnesses - and I don’t think I’d describe mental illness as cureable.

Interesting responses, thanks! I need things like this to keep my hypochondriac tendencies in check. (:

In some situations, you can certainly bring yourself out of a mental illness. Stuff like Cognitive Behavior Therapy isn’t based on some secret formula. Therapy isn’t magic. People can and do sometimes figure this stuff out on their own.

I’ve told my story plenty. I’d dealt with depression since childhood, and finally fell full-on into the depths of it- I spent a year where I couldn’t spend a day without crying and had a whole host of accompanying problems. It was almost as bad as it gets. There is no mistaking how depressed I was.

Then, one day, I realized I did not want to be sick. So I set about getting better. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I basically had to dismantle my entire personality (which had become based in depression) and find a completely different way to think about everything. It was terrifying to let go of the world view I had clung to for so long and had become some deeply invested in. But I did it. This was many years ago and I’ve been in good shape ever since. My life has changed completely

And I dare anybody to say that what I experienced wasn’t real.

even sven, I can so relate to this sentiment. I went through a bad depression in college. Ultimately I “cured” myself, which has led the few people I’ve confided this experience to, including my therapist mom, to say that it must not have been that bad.

I had been bulimic for several years. I was consumed with negative thoughts and despair. I dropped out of school midsemester.

When I finally started seeing a counselor, which I had been desperate to do, I was confused to find that I felt markedly worse after every session. Finally, feeling like I was doing the wrong thing, but unable to face going back, I stopped going and just started focusing on cheering myself up.

I was sure I “wasn’t facing my problems” and I would one day have to go back and “deal with my issues” but I just couldn’t stand it.

Well, that was 20 years ago and I’ve never been back to a counselor and never “faced my problems” or “dealt with my issues” but I haven’t purposely thrown up since I was 21 and have got a very good handle on my mood and am always able to dispel incipient depression within hours.

My first child died when she was four months old and my brother committed suicide in December and while those events caused me sadness and grief, I think I weathered/ am weathering them remarkably well, because I know how to manage my mood so well.

I would venture to say that even when someone seeks treatment for a mental illness, they are, in effect, healing themselves. The psychologist or phychiatrist may provide the tools, but ultimately the work is up to the person who wants to change. A psychologist cannot help a person at all if there is no reciprocation, so everyone who heals from a mental illness, whether they are in treatment or not, is ultimately taking responsibility and therefore credit for improvement.

That is my 100% non-expert opinion.

I ‘cured’ myself of depression because, even in the midst of despair, I could pinpoint the real problem (hormonal birth control). I’ve probably brought this up too much, but that experience really offered me some valuable insight into the difference between ‘the blues’ and actual depression – and it’s distressing to know that so many people don’t have the same easy answer that I did (though I am happy to say that some friends I related my experiences to finally put two and two together and realized their own mental problems were related to their choice of BC).

The problem with what you all describe is there are levels of depression. Most, but certainly not all, forms of depression go into periods which one could term as remissions. And this happens on it’s own or with meds.

Suppose I have a headache, I could go into a quiet, dark room and put an ice bag on my head and in a few hours my headache would go away. OR I could take two aspirin and in 30 minutes my headache would be gone.

See the point? It would’ve went away anyway, but since the pills are there why suffer for longer than needed?

Bipolar people routinely go into phases of manic then normal then depressed, then normal then the cycle continues all their lives.

The problem with not treating these people is while they are in these “bad states” they make and do very irrational things.

Even the worst schizophrenics, tend to get better over time. Now this doesn’t mean they ever are fuctional, what it means is if you look at an untreated schizophrenic at age 20 and re-look at him at age 50. He’ll probably be better. Because over the 30 years he’ll be forced to learn some coping skills for his illness.

Also borderline cases have lost the most as life got complex.

For instance when I was a kid, we had a young man and he was very borderline. In otherwords he had “issues,” as my mother would say. But he could hold down a simple job pumping gas. He rented a room with an old man who’s family had grown up and moved away.

Because the job was simple he didn’t have the stresses and he could cope. He came home, paid his rent and basically sat on the porch with the old men of the neighborhood (he was in his early 20s) and was quite functional.

But when jobs like gas jockey were eliminated, and the other low paying, lower stress jobs were also gone or didn’t pay enough for him to live on his own, he no longer could cope.

So that is part of the reason we see an increse, simply because these “marginal” people with mental illness could work at simple, low stress jobs and earn enough to at least have a flat and food. You know the basics.

Also remember a “marginal” mentally ill person could say things like “OK I hear a voice but I see only one person.” So that must be a voice in my head I’m hearing and it’s not real." Now, in today’s world, half the people on the street are walking around with blue tooth talking to thin air.

So you first got to factor in how serious is an illness, it’s onset, the remission factor and the quality of life.

I’ll give you an example on the last point. I was afraid, I mean TERRIFIED to fly. I missed out on many jobs and opportunities 'cause I couldn’t get on a plane. Now thanks to Paxil. I was able to get on a plane. I no longer need Paxil to fly and frankly, flying isn’t my favourite thing in the world, but I can do it. But for 15 years I missed out on SO many life experience it isn’t even funny.

So you have to figure in a person barely ekeing by without meds, versus a person getting by better with meds. Is it worth it? Well maybe, maybe not.

It might be a bit weird posting in a thread about my own thread, but bear with me.

Is it possible for depression to have more than one contributing cause at a time? If so, even if you can’t outright “cure” yourself without professional help, can you at least help in your own treatment by dealing with the other causes?

Let’s say therapy contributes 25% to your well being, drugs another 25%, stuff you can change another 25%, planetary alignment and disturbances in spacetime the remaining 25%. If – and obviously this is a big “if” – that’s true, then neither therapy by itself nor your actions by themselves can cure you completely, but either alone would be better than nothing at all and both together would be even better. Of course the numbers may be different for every individual and every situation – some people eventually “snap out of it” as some of you have, while others never do – but does that sound reasonable in general?

The titular question assumes, tacitly or otherwise, facts not in evidence:

• That there exists a true disease, i.e., a wholly unfortunate condition of the pathological variety, as opposed to a response to circumstances that is (perhaps not even always) unpleasantly experienced, which we can dub “mental illness”;

• That there exists a profession or a set of skilled individuals who can cure people of “mental illness” if they go to them;

• That, as with influenza or bubonic plague, as opposed to (let’s say) hyperercholesterolemia or hypertension or malnutrition, depression is a malady such that, once cured of it, you are not particularly subject to it, rather than being a person who is subject to it who may or may not be suffering from it rather emphatically right now as opposed to having it more or less under control
Let’s work backwards from last to first:
a) Nearly all of the ailments that fall into the rubric of “mental illness” are, I daresay, human mental and emotional conditions that any human can experience under at least some circumstances, but which some individuals are more prone to being subject to than other individuals under roughly identical circumstances. Those more vulnerable to these are going to remain more vulnerable to them, for the most part. Some will learn fair to excellent coping mechanisms to offset that. A few people will have been subject to acute situational stressors that tip them into symptom exhibition of such ailments and if they are able to cope with that and get out of the situation, may never again exhibit.

b) We, as a species, still do not know what causes any of these ailments, nor (to an even greater degree of ignorance) do we know what to do about any of them. Diagnostically, the research money has been dumped nearly entirely into physiological correlates especially at the neurotransmitter biochemistry level, with mixed and mostly inconclusive results. Despite extensive PR work by the phama companies, it is still not determined that this is indeed what mental illness “is”. Pharmacologically, we have nothing that surpasses symptom relief and most of that at a very blunt level, roughly akin to fixing distortions in your home audio system by turning the volume down until you cannot hear it any more. Most psych drugs impede neuro function, deaden the intensity of feelings, slow cognitions, and dull the imagination. In short, no cure has been found and we dont’ even know what the hell we’ re dealing with, really.

c) Forced treatment exists. Fact. That puts everything else in a very political context: who gets to define “disease”, “suffering”, or even “unfortunate condition”? Some of us are organized in a political movement to say that only we who say of ourselves that we consider ourselves to have a mental illness can be said to have one; that anyone else who is viewed by others (or by themselves alone for that matter) as having a mental cognitive or emotional condition that makes them different from the rest of the populace, but who do NOT consider it to be a condition they wish to be rid of, cannot be so defined. To make a parody of political correctness (why not? everyone else does!) let’s say “differently minded”. But seriously, precisely because treatment IS imposed involuntarily, it’s an important issue. If you do not “get it”, consider gay folks, who until a date within my lifespan and probably yours as well, were subject to mental health diagnosis specifically for being gay, and who do not consider their sexual pref a disease. If the system can be wrong about them (or, more to the point, if it is possible that folks’ consciousness regarding their specific difference can be raised in that fashion), then you must allow the possibility that this is true of any of the rest of us and our difference. Whether it take the form of this or that currently-unspoken of specific difference or something more generic like Schizzy Liberation or Bipolar Pride, hey, if we who are in those “conditions” say it is something other than a disease, you should give weight to our evaluation thereof.

It is certainly possible for depression to result from the concurrence of multiple causes. One should not view it in terms of percentages, but rather as 'A and B are necessary for C. For example, a person may have an internal predisposition to depression with their brain, but it only manifests as actual depression in certain circumstances. They go through life being mentally healthy until those circumstances occur. But once they find themselves in an unhappy relationship or pursuing an unsatisfactory career path, the depression manifests in a big way.

So what option should a person pursue in such a case? I believe that anti-depressants can help some people. They certain helped me when I became depressed in graduate school. However, anti-depressants alone cannot cure depression. Likewise therapy can help some people, but anti-depressants alone cannot cure depression. The only true cure is to eliminate the circumstance that causes the depression. End the unhappy relationship, leave the unsatisfactory career path.

That may be easier said then done, of course, but it is doable. One may need to look around quite a bit before figuring out a mode of life that one finds suitable, and that will not cause depression. There can be little doubt that many conditions today are viewed as mental illness, which were previously thought of as temperments. Shyness, loneliness, and melancholy are some examples. There’s also no doubt that the pharmaceutical industry has played a big role in reclassifying these things as mental illnesses and promoting expensive “cures” for them. As AHunter3 has already mentioned, there’s no evidence that these cures actually work.

We should realize that in previous generations, society provided roles where people who had these temperments could fit in and lead good lives. Shy people could join religious orders, or lonely people could live out in the woods, and so forth. In recent years these outlets have been mostly eliminated, which probably accounts for the explosion in diagnosed cases of depression and other mental illnesses.

Nevertheless, there are still social roles that people can pursue even if they don’t fit into the mental mainstream. It just takes some effort to find them.

It depends on how much support you get. I know people who ‘cure’ their own depression or mental illness (not sure if it is depression or such). Both have something in common is that they use exercise to snap out from it - one is into cycling and skating, and he does it almost everyday. They also come from pretty good family, as in it’s not a dysfunctional family and they are popular among other people.

Me, as an example, don’t have a family to help me with (everyone is down with something - either anxiety or depression) and my family is dysfunctional (divorce, re-marriage) and I somewhat of a outcast and don’t enjoy sports (clumsy child syndrome). My book shelves is full of books on anxiety management and snapping out of depression and I know many techniques - CBT, schema, mediation and what have you. But I am still struggling. I am scared of the most irrational things at time (being in a room full of strangers, for example) and well - meltdowns and etc.

It really depends.

As a footnote, one of the friends who managed to snap out from mental illness seem to have somewhat recessed into it when school gets hectic, he stops exercising, family members fell sick and he has problem with his groups at school.

We all developing coping mechanisms to handle problems. A lactose intolerant person avoids dairy products. A person with back problems learns how to sit and walk so as not to exacerbate their condition. A blind person hones their other senses. In all of these cases, the individual hasn’t “snapped” out of it. They just have learned how to deal.

A person with mental illness can cope in a similar way. They learn to stay away from certain triggers or situations they know they can’t handle. They develop an internal dialogue to use whenever they know they’re being irrational or unreasonable. They organize their life so as to make it as simple and predictable as possible. On the outside they look cured but they’re not. They just know how to work around their problems.

Which is why it’s important to respect other’s boundaries and not push people into doing things they don’t want to do.

I don’t doubt that there are people who can/have pulled themselves up by their on bootstraps.

I am not one of them.

So while that is all well and good for them, it makes my life a little more difficult because “Why can’t you just snap out of it? So-and-so did! Just think yourself happy!”

One could accurately point out that all social structure is in our heads (collectively speaking). It does not follow from that that a useful response to any concern about one’s social situation would be “Well since it’s all in your head, just imagine it to be something different and it will be, la de dah!”

It’s similarly unhelpful to say to you “Just think yourself happy”.


First off, happiness is not a candy bonbon. Like all emotions, it is a freaking cognition, it is information about yourself, your context, and whether the life you are living is good for you. Not only are we not guaranteed perpetual happiness, it would be a singularly bad thing were we to have it. But a similar lack of contrast bunched up at the other end of the scale isn’t by any means a good thing either. Something there requires attention.

I’m not sure I can tell the difference between ‘mental illness’ and a poor ‘state of mind’. I’ve never had any form of psychological therapy, and I’ve been considering suicide on and off for the past 35 years.

I’ve learned coping mechanisms. I wouldn’t say I’ve cured myself, but I wouldn’t say specifically I’ve been ill either. I’ve found a wider comfort zone, mainly by learning not to be so concerned about what others think of me. I suspect part of my reluctance to seek any treatment is that I don’t want a diagnosis.

I fear a couple of things. One is that some kind of drug related therapy will make me somehow into a different person, one that I don’t know. In a way, it almost seems a different, more socially acceptable kind of suicide.

And as far as other forms of therapy go, I feel I’ve read enough to know all the intellectual ‘right’ answers to my issues, but I’m doubtful of the ability of anyone else to make me actually accept these answers at a deeper level.

I sometimes haul my issues out and think them through, but mostly I keep them in one of those little boxes in the corner of my brain – something that’s supposedly so dangerous because some day the lid will blow off. But in my case, I don’t have any horrendous traumas that I’ve buried, so I don’t think there’s a pressure cooker waiting to blow.

Getting back to the OP question, which is a good one – I don’t have a fuckin’ clue. :smack:

But I pretty much did “snap out of it.” Or rather, I realized that I wanted to get better and set about the monumental work of getting that way. To some degree I do stay away from certain thoughts. I know that pleasantly moody melancholy is something I can’t handle. It’s like an alcoholic with a drink- I can’t allow myself to indulge in even a little bit, because I know that I can’t handle it. But I’m certainly not limping along making my life as simple and predictable as possible (quite the opposite.) I’m joyful every day that I had the fortune and the guts to do what it took to get better, because now I am living the life of my dreams.

Why didn’t I choose drugs? A lot of reasons, but mostly because I realized the problem wasn’t that I was being battered by bizarre chemicals (though my thought process was certain creating them.) The problem was that I was self-obsessed, completely short of perspective, over dramatic and all too eager to find out what hitting bottom would feel like. While drugs might have helped, they wouldn’t solve the fundamental problem.

I’m glad drugs help a lot of people. But I am skeptical, too. Especially considering how we just write off the failures as “hasn’t found the right drug yet” or “Oh, you know, the drugs stop working and you have to find a new one every once in a while.” Of course the drugs work when you don’t acknowledge that they eventually start to fail.