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Why don't mental health problems get better on their own?

Sheri Van Dijk
Psychiatry

Some mental health problems do get better on their own. Minor depression, for example, might not require medication or psychotherapy. Quite often, though, mental health problems don't go away on their own. Sometimes this is because the mental health problem is actually in part biological - schizophrenia, for example, or bipolar disorder. These illnesses won't go away without treatment because they are in part physiological illnesses that must be treated with medication, just like high blood pressure or diabetes.

Depression and anxiety, however, are often not caused by our brain chemistry, but by the situations we're dealing with and the way we've learned to cope. In these instances, the illnesses don't go away on their own because we've learned to think about things in certain ways, and to deal with things in certain ways. With anxiety, for example, the common tendency is to avoid the thing that causes anxiety - this actually makes the anxiety worse. So until you learn to change your patterned behavior and do things differently - whether with the help of a therapist, self-help, and/or with medication - the illness doesn't usually resolve by itself.

Because many forms of mental illness are related to chemical imbalances in the brain, they won't just go away. Professional treatment is needed, just as you need medical care for a serious physical problem, such as a severe infection. Mental health problems can also get much worse without treatment, just as an untreated infection can get much worse. They need treatment with appropriate medication, often in combination with other forms of therapy.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.