It has been my experience that we rarely cure our mental health issues.
Rather, we manage them.
Maybe that is why I have always loved that film moment in "As Good As It Gets" -- Jack Nicholson confronting a room full of folks in different stages of distress.... his question/declaration... a collective moment of disbelief, horror, and sigh of acceptance.
But, if memory serves, Jack (Melvin in the movie) did all right in that film. He may never lose all of his phobic, depressive, compulsive, narcissistic or otherwise anti-social tendencies; however, he slowly manages them. All of Melvin, the good and the bad, propels the action of the film. And whether he is consciously aware or not, life begins to get better or at least more engaging, prompting another complaint couched in the comfort of familiar discomfort:
Melvin Udall: I can't get back to my old life. She's evicted me from my life!
Simon Bishop: Did you really like it all that much?
Dr. Tyrone Cannon, from his article "The Pursuit of Cures for Mental Illness," says "a cure represents the permanent end to the specific instance of a disease."
With psychological issues there may be no end, nothing to cut out or operate on, and arguably, no magic pills to take.
Instead, there may be ongoing distress, impaired function, non-mindful behaviors and sometimes destructive consequences for oneself and others.
Through management, that is awareness, understanding, personal compassion and mindful action, we may be able to sustain, change, and grow.
The notion of a medical cure, a removal, fix, or reset in brain chemistry may not serve us well on the road to authenticity that must, by definition, embrace the full and unique compliment of who and what we are.
Maybe Star Trek's original captain said it better in The Final Frontier:
Damn it Bones, you're a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can't be taken away with the wave of a magic wand. They're the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don't want my pain taken away! I need my pain!
Perhaps the successful management of distressful thoughts, feelings and behaviors is the worthy goal, the hero's journey and the right place to be; not a loss, failure, compromise or band-aid, meant to hold us over 'till the next thing comes along, but the cure, the dream, the holy grail of mental health.
Best of all, it's attainable as in... We can do this!
Depression... a management example
In depression, the loss of hope and meaning alone can be enough to paralyze us. Worse yet, the unending quality of it can exhaust us over time, resulting in arguably rational thoughts of ending the pain. In these cases, what philosophy, what possible management tools can we use?
Did Jack just get lucky in that film or was he driven to find some means, no matter how desperate, of engaging the world; whether throwing a dog down a garbage shoot, or showing up unannounced at his waitress' door for breakfast.
Based on Viktor Frankl's assumption that humanity has a "will to meaning," and that we are all endowed with "an inner pull to find a meaning in life," Melvin had to do it.
Dr. Frankl, who lived out his theories while struggling to survive in a Nazi concentration camp and chronicled his adventures and philosophy in "Man's Search for Meaning," might say that Melvin was called to action. Frankl's Logotherapy offers a solace that says "life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable, and that "our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life."
In Frankl's world our depressions, anxieties, and other foibles of mental distress are what make us "uniquely human" and "irreplaceable."
With Logotherapy, we may be able to find meaning and purpose in all parts of ourselves, while successful management of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors allows for a practical order and sublimation of some parts to others.
I believe these same types of management tools, philosophies and therapies exist for all of the issues listed in the title of this piece. It is these beliefs that have turned me into a survivor, able to create and grow in the best of times, able to cope, manage and survive in the worst.
I believe that for me... I believe that for you.
The Pursuit of Cures for Mental Illness, Cannon, T. (2014). https://www.imhro.org/research-education/pursuit-cures-mental-illness
Viktor Frankl Institut. Logotherapy. http://www.viktorfrankl.org/e/logotherapy.html
Dr. Robert Lusson is a professional psychologist residing in Los Angeles, Ca.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org