In the world of mental illness we talk about “response” and “remission” and not cure for mental illness. The reason is very simple – we don’t know of a cure for mental illness. One may exist, but we don’t know of any such cure for bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia and other mental illness.
What are Treatment, Response, Remission and Relapse?
The words we use most often are treatment, as in I’m in treatment for bipolar disorder; response, as in I’m responding to treatment for schizophrenia; and remission, as in I’m in remission from depression.
- Treatment – treatment is whatever is applied to make an illness better such as therapy, medication, mindfulness and so on.
- Response – response is generally positive or negative and indicates whether a treatment is working. A positive response means you have shown improvement on a given course of treatment, it does not necessarily mean that all your symptoms have disappeared, only that there has been positive movement in some way.
- Remission – remission is the state in which all or most of your symptoms have “remitted” or gone away. People have remissions from cancer, and many other illnesses as well as mental illness.
- Relapse – relapse is a state in which the symptoms reassert themselves after a period of successful treatment or remission.
What is a Cure for Mental Illness?
A cure for bipolar, depression, schizophrenia or other mental illness would be a state of recovery where no more symptoms were present and you were returned to health permanently. This is the one that is contentious in mental illness. Most doctors believe that even once a mental illness goes into remission, relapse is possible, and in some cases, even likely. It is thought that the mental illness – the fundamental neurobiological causes – never go away, but they may be successfully treated for a period of time. This amount of time could be forever, but it most often is not.
So if a disease goes into remission forever, isn’t that a cure?
I guess that depends on who you ask. If you have to be treated for the rest of your life, even if you’re in remission I’d say it’s hard to argue that you’re “cured.” On the other hand, if you get better, taper off treatment, and remain better, then maybe you would consider that a cure. I’d be hesitant to use the word “cure,” personally, but that’s me.
Who Goes Into Long-Term Remission? Who’s Cured of Mental Illness?
That’s a toughie. I’d start out by saying that it’s impossible to know who will go into long-term remission or get “cured” of mental illness, but that isn’t exactly true. We know that people with milder forms of the disease have a much better chance of full remission. We know that you have a better chance at a mental illness “cure” if:
- You don’t have a family history of mental illness
- You have a more mild form of mental illness
- You have a good support system
- You have access to quality medical (including mental health) care
- You have had fewer episodes of mental illness in the past
Unfortunately, most of us reading this right now do not fit into this category. It doesn’t mean that you won’t find long-term remission; it just means that you’re not in the most likely group.
Is a Cure for Mental Illness Possible?
Mental illness is not one thing and all mental illnesses are not created equal. Depression isn’t the same as bipolar disorder which isn’t the same as schizophrenia. And with different severity levels, these diseases become, yet again, different.
But in the case of severe mental illness, is there a cure?
Not if you ask me.
[push]I think suggesting there is a cure for mental illness overall just isn’t true. We don’t yet have a cure for mental illness. [/push]
I have no doubt that some people with a mental illness can experience long-term remission and some may even consider themselves “cured.” But I have yet to see a person with schizophrenia make that claim. I have yet to see anyone who suffers from psychosis make that claim. I have yet to see anyone with severe, long-standing symptoms make that claim. So it is possible? Maybe. In some cases. But maybe in those cases the disease just isn’t like the other cases. Maybe they are in a category by themselves. Maybe (undoubtedly) we just can’t recognize who is in that category.
So I wouldn’t want anyone to think that a cure absolutely is or absolutely is not possible for any given person, because I don’t know. But I think suggesting there is a cure for mental illness overall just isn’t true. We don’t yet have a cure for mental illness. We’re just going to have to live with that fact. But that’s OK. It puts us in good company with epileptics, Parkinsonians, diabetics and many, many others.