How Close are we to Finding a Cure for any Mental Illnesses?
Are any scientists working towards cures; if so how close are they?
Although mental illnesses are treatable, they cannot be cured. The most treatable being depression and bipolar disorder. This is because of the developments made on cognitive therapy and medications like esketamine and cariprazine. Although they are the most treatable, they are not the most curable because it would be difficult to focus on just depression of bipolar disorder when these illnesses are usually linked to other illnesses. (Bascobert, 2005)
Many psychiatrists have given up on the idea of a cure for any mental illnesses. Not a lot of professionals talk about a cure because they know that even though treatments do work, they need to be continued or revisited. There are people suffering from psychosis who may not be consistent in their want for medication. If there was a cure, this struggle between people and professionals would not be as unsteady. This is why a cure would be useful. (Grohol, 2009)
Being cured means the illness is gone for a lifetime. Right now, the best action people with mental illnesses can take is counseling, medication, and lifestyle changes but these are not cures. This is because even though controlled environments do help with mental illnesses, those are not always sustainable. (Yule, 2019)
Stress intensifies symptoms of anxiety and depression; Therefore, it is helpful to be avoided but the outside variables that bring stress cannot be avoided. For example, if the sound of cars are the cause of intense stress for a patient, they are going to struggle to avoid this trigger. (Yule, 2019)
Next, mental illnesses are not as easy to diagnose as physical illnesses and are often connected to each other. So, finding a cure is difficult on its own but the scientist would also need to know where each of the symptoms is coming from. Alternatively, the scientist would need to look for a subject that has been confirmed to only have the one illness. The problem is that a confirmation is hard to make. It would not be as simple as looking for a broken bone with a physical test such as an x-ray. (Yule, 2019)
Some illnesses like depression and anxiety may seem like they have been cured because they function with a level of severity. A person’s depression and anxiety may subside for a period of time, but this is because of treatment and environmental factors, meaning it is not permanent. (Jamil, 2019)
Following that, a low level of anxiety and depression is natural and needed at times. These feelings while negative, serve a purpose. Anxiety can prepare people for situations that their body feels are stressful; Feeling low can help people reassess their decisions and rationalize their actions. Because of this fully curing these illnesses is not possible. The high levels of depression and anxiety are dangerous which are why we have methods to control them. (Jamil, 2019)
Anxiety and depression exist on a spectrum. While worry and sadness are components of the disorder and the illness, they are not all of it. When anxiety becomes emotional, cognitive, and physiological, it should be looked at by a doctor. (Marques, 2018) Depression also has specific criteria. Sadness could fit some of it but unless the sadness causes a difference in eating, sleeping, exercising, or work habits, it may not be depression. (Whelan, 2017)
1 in 3 Canadians experience mental illness sometime in their life. Many others are indirectly affected by it through friends and family. It is a very common issue which is why prevention and treatment are so important. (Government of Canada, 2017)
Moreover, controlling anxiety and depression so that it does not reach these dangerous levels can look like a healthy diet, good sleep schedule, journaling, meditating, limiting caffeine/ sugar/ and alchol, and giving yourself breaks throughout the day. To avoid developing an illness that cannot be cured, take care of yourself and listen to your body. (Bhandari, 2021)
It is not expected that any mental illnesses will be cured in this lifetime. Scientists will have to work closely with volunteers with these illnesses. The issue is that people don’t have enough hope in the scientists researching a cure. Studies have been conducted in the past but have failed to find useful results. (Carey, 2018)
The scientists would have the most luck finding a cure for schizophrenia because it is more likely to not have other illnesses linked to it. There still is the chance that anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) could be linked to schizophrenia. (Carey, 2018)
The scientists at Broad Institute discovered that schizophrenia was linked to a specific gene in the body, the complement component 4 (C4). Schizophrenia is a syndrome that includes symptoms of psychosis (hallucinations and delusions) that show in early adulthood. (Insel, 2010) They concluded that looking into synaptic pruning in a brain with schizophrenia may lead to more developments in the subject. (Doench, 2019)
Synaptic pruning is when the brain eliminates connections that are no longer useful to it. It happens during early childhood and adulthood. It is the brain’s way of making room for new complex information. (Sakai, 2020)
This research is relevant because to find a cure people first need to better understand these illnesses. There are still discoveries to be made about the brain’s relation to illnesses and where exactly illnesses affect. (Herbert, 2015)
While that is the case and the argument from most scientists, a group from the University of Toronto say that because we have identified where every mental illness comes from, we should be able to start finding a cure. They are working on getting funding for their project but are struggling because many people are not hopeful. (Post, 2015)
The closest we have to cure are the long-lasting injections for schizophrenia (and any psychosis) and ECT’s which are for those with bipolar disorder and major depression. The injections are anti-psychotics they last two to four months. Because of their long working times, they reduce the risk of relapse (MacMillan, 2020), reduce plasma peaks levels, and reduce hospitalization rates. The disadvantages are that the injection site may be in pain for a while, there is not as much flexibility in when the person can take their dose, and the dose has slower titration. (Guzman, 2015)
The other long-lasting treatment is electroconvulsive therapy. While the patient is under anesthesia, there is electrical stimulation being given to the brain. It initially causes a seizure and changes brain chemistry to relive the recipient of the symptoms of their depression or bipolar disorder. There is stigma against ECT’s because they used to be administered at higher voltages but now that the process has been tweaked, it is safe to use as a treatment. (Mayo Clinic, 2018)
With all the developments in mental health treatment its worth asking if we immediately need a cure. As I discovered in my previous research round, there are various treatments to mental illnesses. Amanda Pierce, a woman who struggle with drug abuse, self-harm, and depression firmly believes in the use of mental health treatments. Medication did not work for her, but counselling did. Talking about what she was going through worked better for her over medication because of her history with drug abuse. (Pierce, 2007)
Another woman, Suzanna Kelly, struggled with anorexia. She also believes that getting help was the right thing to do. She saw many different counsellors and they didn’t work for her. The best thing for her was going to the hospital where they educated her on her disorder and talked through methods of treatment. Enhanced Cognitive Behavioural Therapy worked for her. Now she does not struggle with her anorexia. Even though these treatments are not permanent, they help people cope and function. (Kelly, 2007) A cure would be wonderful, but it may not exist in the foreseeable future just yet.
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Marques, L. (2018, July 23). Do I have anxiety or worry: What’s the difference? Harvard Health. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/do-i-have-anxiety-or-worry-whats-the-difference-2018072314303.
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Post, S. to F. (2015, January 12). Business and the brain: How some scientists hope to cure mental illness. financialpost. Retrieved November 17, 2021, from https://financialpost.com/brain-health/business-and-the-brain-how-some-scientists-hope-to-cure-mental-illness.
Sakai, J. (2020, July 14). Core concept: How synaptic pruning shapes neural wiring during development and, possibly, in disease. PNAS. Retrieved November 17, 2021, from https://www.pnas.org/content/117/28/16096.
Whelan, C. (2017, March 31). Depression vs. sadness: What’s the difference? Healthline. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/depression-vs-sadness#symptoms.
Yule, A. (2019). Integrating treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 40(1). https://doi.org/10.35946/arcr.v40.1.07 Peer Reviewed
Thanks for reading!