Most People with Common ‘Mental Disorders’ Get Better Without Treatment, Study Finds


A new study suggests that most people diagnosed with depressive, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders recover without treatment within a year of diagnosis. “This study further supports the argument that meeting diagnostic criteria for a mental disorder does not necessarily indicate a need for mental health treatment,” the researchers, led by Jitender Sareen from the University of Manitoba, write.

It is commonly thought that a diagnosis of a mental health disorder is a sign that the individual is in immediate need of professional treatment. Other experts have disagreed, however, pointing out past research suggesting that many cases of mental distress may be temporary and can improve on their own without treatment.

mental health services

One such study, for example, found that a substantial portion of individuals diagnosed with ‘severe mental disorders’ no longer met the criteria for their diagnosis one year later, whether they had treatment or not.  Jitender Sareen and his colleagues previously studied this topic themselves when in 2013 they found that many individuals who had been diagnosed with a mental disorder in the DSM recovered without seeking treatment.

In the present study, the researchers used data from the Netherlands Mental Health Survey and Incidence Study-1 (NEMESIS-1) to examine the proportion of individuals diagnosed with depressive, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders who remitted without seeking formal treatment. Their results strengthened their previous findings.

The data revealed that more than half of the more than five thousand participants, all of whom had been diagnosed with a mental disorder in the past year, no longer met the criteria for their disorder at follow-up without receiving any mental health services. They also found that those who recovered without formal treatment reported a substantially higher quality of life than those who received treatment, though their scores were still lower than healthy controls.

“The majority of individuals who meet criteria for a common mental disorder remit without treatment,” the researchers write.

While corroborating their previous findings, the study also suggests that many people who fulfil the criteria for a mental health diagnosis may not necessarily be in need of treatment. The researchers point out that overestimating the need for mental health treatment could have serious consequences, and they suggest that clinicians “need to consider other predictive factors such as severity and the circumstances (i.e., time-limited stressor) in which these disorders arose.”

“These new estimations of the proportion of people who need, and do not need, mental health services would also likely allow policymakers to make better-informed decisions on healthcare resource allocations.”



Wang, Y., Henriksen, C.A., ten Have, M., de Graaf, R., Stein, M.B., Enns, M.W. and Sareen, J., 2016. Common Mental Disorder Diagnosis and Need for Treatment are Not the Same: Findings from the NEMESIS Study.Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, pp.1-10. (Abstract)


  1. Am I correct in perceiving that “common” mental illnesses (especially mentioned above) according to this article should not be treated at all? And do you claim that they don’t exist at all or brain is such an organ which fixes itself without any help?

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    • Seems to me no one has ever proven mental disorders are caused by a broken brain in the first place. This is not to say that people do not get depressed, or that people can’t experience emotional or mental duress, but only that psychiatry has repackaged these emotions and behaviors as “disease” in order to sell drugs. It is a brilliant marketing campaign, but it is not scientifically based.

      I just think the odds suck, with our without treatment you have a similar chance of getting better but with the current treatments your odds of them keeping you sick by recklessly stuffing you full of pills that cause all kinds of withdrawals when you try and quit pushes the safe bet to avoiding treatment and makes treatment the much more risky choice.

      And the brain does heal itself I think they call it neuroplasticity .

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      • I don’t think I advise anyone with a mental illness to go without treatment. More than likely, it doesn’t get better on its own. It gets worse. I know, because I tried everything short of medication back in the 2000s’. Sure there are some bumps and bruises but it’s better than being left to my own devices. I think I’d be dead if not been treated, and I bet others would be too, so shaming modern current treatments doesn’t help.

        It makes the stigma much more bigger and harder to get through. That’s just my opinion.

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        • Shellyum,

          I certainly respect your opinion but calling this article as shaming current treatments is totally unfair. I mean, if an article appeared questioning the efficiency of any other med, would you call that shaming? I doubt it so why is it ok regarding the issue of psych meds?

          And just because you felt you needed to take meds to recover from depression doesn’t mean that is true for everyone which this article was trying to point out. My life would have been greatly improved if I had been treated with non med remedies vs. a cocktail of 4 meds that I feel wrecked my health big time.

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        • the clue here is in the study. It says, “most people diagnosed with depressive, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders recover without treatment within a year of diagnosis.” It does not say eveyone. Your experience is not everyones, and according to this study, not like the majority either.

          On what basis are you making your assertion that people do not get better on thier own and only get worse?

          There are other studies on depression that show that most people who have depression get better in about ten weeks without treatment, because for most people the depression is a result of life circumstances which either change or the person either comes to terms with what caused them to become depressed or they change thier life so as to no longer have that in thier life.

          I do not think this is about shaming modern treatments, it is about trying to make an assesment of thier effectiveness using a science based approach and looking at the evidence.

          Approaches that stress that mental illnes is an illness like any other has been shown to increase stigma. Approaches that say mental illness is the outcome of having a difficult life have been shown to reduce stigma. These are not just my opinions they are well researched.

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    • Not necessarily. It didn’t really take a study to prove this true. The figures for individual conditions have been around for decades. If you count remissions as well as complete recoveries, even first-episode schizophrenics will return from their trips 2/3 of the time. What you do want to do is find out as much as you can about this episode, how severe it is, how long it’s been going on and whether there’s a history in relatives, particularly relatives who didn’t get better. I would, but then I wouldn’t use drugs, but would use nutrients instead of the psych drugs that outrage some of the regular bloggers (which I can’t use anyway).

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    • It proves only what it says: that people labeled with what we call “mental disorders” more often then not get better with or without any kind of formal treatment. It proves or disproves nothing about brains healing or not healing themselves. It only proves that treatment per se doesn’t make a difference on the average. It also doesn’t mean that certain individuals won’t improve more with treatment – it only suggests that if such “improvers” exist, there are an equal number of people who get worse receiving treatment vs. those receiving none, balancing out to no gain.

      As a side note, the only actual proof of healing of brains came from the Decade of the Brain, and ironically, the thing that healed brains was not a drug, but relationships with healthy adults who care about you. See Dr. Bruce Perry for more data on that fact.

      —– Steve

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  2. “They also found that those who recovered without formal treatment reported a substantially higher quality of life than those who received treatment, though their scores were still lower than healthy controls.”

    Confirms my experience…being medically “treated” for depression plunged me into a nightmarish saga of drugs (ie prescribed “medication”), involuntary hsopitalisations, maltreatment by psychiatrists, PTSD and permanent inability to work as a result. And then there was/still is the protracted withdrawal from their drugs and an abiding fear of doctors and authority. All this after having been a highly productive member of society until I was diagnosed with and treated for a “mental illness” at 50. I was simply overworked and stressed out and needed a break and a bit of R &R, not a diagnosis, drugging and stigmatisation.

    “First, do no harm”……? The “mental health” industry as it is now is PURELY about doing harm. This may or may not be malicious, but rather than seek out ever more victims for its mill through screening programs, it needs to STOP and REFLECT on the damage it is doing to the mostly innocent, healthy, functional people it snares in its net!

    Life can be tough, and people can be unhappy, fearful, grieving, tired, stressed etc and this study shows that people get through it better without “help” from professionals as these reactions are normal human responses to our environments.

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  3. I am a US Navy Submarine Force veteran of the Cold War and Vietnam Conflicts. In the 1970s, before the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was developed, I was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder by Veterans Affairs psychiatrists. After eight years of unsuccessful treatment with psychiatric drugs which severely damaged me both physically and emotionally to the point of ischemic strokes and suicidal ideation, I was extremely fortunate to recover completely within a few months. I had learned about Orthomolecular Therapy based on tissue mineral analysis of a hair sample and Creative Psychology through my own research and in 1982 was able to obtain a source of these treatments independent from the VA and at my own expense.

    My VA psychiatrist, who later rose to the presidency of the American Psychiatric Association, refused to acknowledge my use of Orthomolecular Therapy, the hair test results, or Creative Psychology and termed my recovery a “spontaneous remission”. Since 1982, I have lived a healthy, productive life, free of not only the need for psychiatric drugs, but all other prescription medicines as well.

    In 2007, concerned about the suicide rate of veterans diagnosed with PTSD, I began to attend a PTSD group at a VA CBOC Clinic in Virginia Beach. After only a few meetings where I shared my story with other veterans, I was taken aside by an unlicensed VA psychologist and VA psychiatrist, a graduate of a one-star medical school. In a twenty minute interview they diagnosed me with paranoid schizophrenia, a rare and extremely disabling condition, and banned from further participation in the PTSD group.

    When this new diagnosis affected the renewal of my life insurance policy, I requested the medical records of my recovery in the 1980s. I discovered that all such mental health records in DVA VISN 1, in the 1978 to 1990 time period, had been spoliated. No records remain. I am convinced that thousands of veterans could have made recoveries similar to mine, with thousands of lives saved, had VA psychiatrists run studies on Orthomolecular Therapy and Creative Psychology instead of destroying all evidence of a veteran’s drug-free recovery and attempting to discredit him. I have recently been examined and tested by well-qualified civilian forensic psychiatrists and a QTC, Inc. C&P medical examiner, who find in me no evidence of any mental illness.
    Learn about orthomolecluar therapy here and Creative Psychology here

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    • Once you’re well, you have to go underground. You’re an orthomolecular spy now and will have to do good secretly. Maybe we’ll be obliged do something like the AA’s do and ask selected people if they’re friends of Abe’s.

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      • You’re lucky, living on the east coast with its denser population and greater number of SA chapters to join. As a former Vietnam grunt, I too am interested in orthomolecular treatments for PTSD, but beneficial paranoia leads me to mistrust the VA in dealing with such things. Fortunately, the VA can’t get you committed as an involuntary patient.

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        • At the present time, you cannot talk to anyone at the VA about mental health treatment other than biological psychiatry and “approved” psychotherapies. Don’t get the idea that they cannot commit you involuntarily. They can do it using the VA Police if you are anywhere on hospital grounds and can even send the VA Police to your house to pick you up in response to a report or complaint. Once the VA has you on a three day emergency hold, they can get a judge to commit you, and forcibly drug you. Thank you for your service in Vietnam, but don’t forget the hard-earned lesson – Trust No One.

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          • I was a voluntary, unaware at the time just how bad caffeine was for me, so I didn’t have to diddle with the VA version of the MP’s. None of my immediate circle were commitments; if there were any, they were on the unit’s other wing, where they sent argumentative patients. You’ll be delighted to know the VA didn’t find out about my serious caffeine sensitivity, either.

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  4. I, too, recovered from a “major mental illness.” I had the common symptoms of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome (drug given for smoking cessation, not depression) misdiagnosed as “bipolar.” All the “bipolar” drugs caused anticholinergic toxidrome poisoning, which made me really sick. But getting off the drugs, and away from the ungodly disrespectful “professionals” was the cure.

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      • I feel pretty damn good now, having been to Hell and back twice, I can sit down and have drinks with the Devil and he has to pick up the check. Hoffer had a better, simpler test than the HOD for “schizophrenia”. Take a big dose of regular niacin (not flush-free). If you flush strongly, you are OK. If you don’t flush, you have problems that could get you labeled “schizophrenic”. You had better get a hair test and find out why.

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        • I had my share of dysperceptions, but I’m not a histapenic, one of those guys who never flush. Without competent help so I could get a hair test, I had to wing it- white spots in nails, avoiding copper, cramps at night, that sort of stuff.

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  5. This article seems to confirm the historical data we see in Anatomy of an Epidemic, as well as the WHO studies, Harrow, etc.
    Somehow the human race endured without treatment for tens of thousands of years. And although there has apparently always been “mental illness” with us, the number of individuals afflicted, and disabled by “mental illness” has never been higher then it is here and now. The suicide rate has never been higher then it is right now. And yet there has never a time and place in history in which treatment was more available and more widely used then in the united states in the last 70 years.
    I remember reading in psychology texts back before Prozac that depression was the “common cold of “mental illness” and usually resolved within a year with or without treatment.
    On thing the data doesn’t seem to address is: How many of the people who did get into treatment, still have their diagnosis a year later?

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      • bcharris,
        If you would like to get the word out to vets about the effective strategies available, I’d like to see you try this site. See if you can last longer than I did before being banned. Search my old posts “Subvet416”.

        Here’s another group to be aware of that want to scam traumatized vets. The CCHR (Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights), more notoriously known as The Church Of Scientology. They even have a contract with the VA now. You just can’t make this stuff up. First they let in NAMI, and now Scientology. Here’s their latest propaganda piece.
        These are all low-lifes chasing the same government dollars that the tax-payers intended to support our veterans.

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        • That’s all right. I’d rather not get tossed too quickly. I’m too jaded for institutional and would rather spend my money on groceries than on scientology internships, preferring to be clouded and confused instead of penniless and Clear.

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        • I did read some of the entries- glad you probably know about histapenics, having contact with the updated Brain Bio Center. How is that one guy dropping so much money on supplements- maybe 10x what I do. I get niacin in bulk at the pharmacy counter of a local drugstore, sugar & starch free and pay less than I would have 40 years ago for the same product (1 thousand 500mg tablets). Shopping for twofers, I pay the same or less for C and B100’s. Maybe I have delusional disorder as well.

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