I wish this was a straight up yes or no answer, but it isn’t. Here’s why.
The easiest way to explain it would be to draw an analogy to physical illnesses. Just like there are a variety of physical illnesses that range from a headache to cancer, there are several different kinds of mental illnesses.
Sometimes, people struggle with adjusting to a new life situation like moving to a new place, living independently, newly divorced, going through a break up, changing schools, making big life choices, grieving the death of a loved one etc. The distress that comes about with these issues are with regard to adapting to a new kind of situation, which will eventually happen in most cases with or without professional help.
However, there are also disorders like dementia, schizophrenia, mood disorders, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, other severe anxiety-related disorders, disorders related to eating and sleeping, personality disorders etc. which are more. severe in nature. They can have such an impact on someone’s personal, social, and occupational life to a point that it can be dysfunctional if they don’t get help. Some of these don’t really go away with time. They need to be addressed by professionals who can help by teaching how to manage it.
Some mental illnesses are episodic – so they come and pass just like a migraine attack would. For example: depression, anxiety attacks, panic attacks, etc. Of course, they last much longer than a migraine and have such a negative impact on your quality of life. Just as migraine attacks have triggers, these illnesses are also most often triggered by some situation, person, thought, etc. Learning that this is what you have will help you understand how to manage it when you talk to a professional.
There are other mental illnesses that have adverse effect on day-to-day functioning. For example, anxiety – constantly overthinking everything and feeling overwhelmed very easily or all the time has an effect on how you deal with situations at home/school/work/with friends/with partners etc. When you seek help for conditions like this, you learn what your thought and behaviour patterns are and how to unlearn these and relearn better ways of coping.
There are also other things in general that people struggle with that are not clinically recognized. Things like low self-confidence, not feeling attractive, feeling like you are very sensitive, etc. These are not labelled as disorders but people live their entire lives weighed down by these. It affects their choices and that can cause ripple effects throughout all aspects of their lives. Therapy can really help change your perspective in such situations. And if there’s a chance that you can fully rid yourself off these heavy thoughts and feelings, why would you not take it? You don’t need a diagnosis to approach a therapist. If you are able to identify problems in your life and would simply like to work on yourself, you can talk to a therapist.
If someone no longer meets the criteria for mental illness, they are considered to be in remission. As you can see, mental illnesses are usually not permanent as in they are not consistent over time. However, the pattern of impairment and functioning continue to persist for a long time.
Also, we cannot forget that there are so many people who lead their entire lives not knowing that they are struggling with a mental illness. A headache is just a headache until you go to a doctor, run tests, and find out it’s actually a brain tumor. Pain is just pain until you find out the underlying cause for it and try to treat that instead of just popping pain killers whenever it hurts. Similarly, low self-confidence, low mood and energy, bad sleep and appetite, feeling hopeless etc. are just bad days/weeks/months/life until you find out that it is actually a mental illness.
So, coming back to our question.
Is mental illness permanent?
The answer is: It doesn’t have to be.