Mental Illness: How to Help Hurting People
Life is fraught with incalculable difficulties because of man’s original fall into sin, from anxiety to depression to post-traumatic stress to schizophrenia and other debilitating conditions of the mind. In fact, 17.9% of the US population suffers from some kind of “mental illness,” or 57,780,000 persons, and in 2015, 6.7% of adults 18 and over had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. This is one of the premier issues in which churches have been failing, abdicating their divine call to secular psychiatry.
The very label “illness” implies a biological problem, and therefore, in the same way that a person may be diagnosed with heart disease or cancer, a person may be diagnosed with either depression, ADHD, or schizophrenia and prescribed a drug which the vast majority of people take for granted. Yet, the difference between a mental illness and a biological illness is that mental illnesses are diagnosed on the basis of symptoms while biological illnesses are diagnosed by the presence of a histopathological lesion or a pathophysiological abnormality. Biological illnesses are combated not by treating symptoms but by treating the particular disease. There is no CAT-scan or X-Ray that can be done that demonstrably shows the presence of any mental illness in contrast to the scan of a person not suffering from such symptoms.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), ADHD is “marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development” (emphasis added). NIMH goes on to explain inattention saying that it “means a person wanders off task, lacks persistence, has difficulty sustaining focus, and is disorganized,” while hyperactivity “means a person seems to move about constantly, including in situations in which it is not appropriate; or excessively fidgets, taps, or talks. In adults, it may be extreme restlessness or wearing others out with constant activity.” Note the subjectivity in such definitions; what is an “ongoing pattern”? Furthermore, most children, especially boys, wander off task, not persisting in boring schoolwork, and every child will lose things; interestingly, the majority of children put on ADHD drugs are boys, universally recognized for decades to mature slower than girls. Also, I know a lot of people who wear others out with constant activity, but the idea that such necessitates a biological problem and they need some kind of drug is ludicrous. You will not find any objective, scientific statements in any definition of a mental illness, but only a list of symptoms which can be the result of a variety of things, from personality to home-life, among other things.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), “Depression is a condition in which a person feels discouraged, sad, hopeless, unmotivated, or disinterested in life in general” (emphasis added). The Mayo Clinic says it is “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it effects how you feel, think, and behave, and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living” (emphases added). Depression is real, but there is no single biological or spiritual factor that causes it; there may be a biological factor but it is not being remedied by psychiatric drugs which only compound the problem.
Finally, NIMH defines schizophrenia as “a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality.” May seem? What does losing touch with reality look like? There could be any number of factors that could have that result, from a traumatic experience as a child to a brain tumor to even having too much copper in one’s diet, among many other possible factors. Edward Drummond from Seacoast Mental Health Center in New Hampshire wrote in The Complete Guide to Psychiatric Drugs, “There is no accepted etiology of schizophrenia although there have been many theories. … The unfortunate truth is that we don’t know what causes schizophrenia or even what the illness is.”
There is no single disease called “ADHD,” or “depression,” or “schizophrenia,” such merely terms to describe common symptoms that could be the result of vastly different things. No doctor merely treats symptoms, that is, if he or she is a good doctor; if I break my arm and go to the emergency room, the doctor is not going to simply give me morphine and a prescription for pain pills and then send me on my way with a broken arm. Well, under socialized medicine he might, but that’s another discussion. Yet, this is exactly what secular psychiatry does with problems like depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc., not even trying to solve the actual problem or even figure out the problem, but only treating the symptoms.
A counselor must take the time to ask questions, questions that may include the person’s diet, their home-life, how they were raised, what they may be going through now, or even sending them to a medical doctor for a complete physical. None of these things are ever done for people on psychiatric drugs, primarily because such counseling will take months or even years of steady work with a person and the biblical counselor must always point the person to the principles in God’s Word.
A Biochemical Imbalance?
In many ways, America is becoming a Scientism Oligarchy, average people blindly trusting secular psychiatry and the rich drug manufacturers like Eli Lilly. People who have a constant feeling of anxiety or stress, or people who are incredibly depressed for prolonged periods, go to the doctor and are usually told that they have a genetic, biochemical imbalance and need a certain drug to fix it, there being no hope of ever getting better. Yet, not a single mental illness has been demonstrably proven to be biological, though there are many hypotheses, all centering on some kind of biochemical imbalance in the brain. The only biochemical imbalances, however, that have been observed in persons suffering from a mental illness have been in people who have been taking psychiatric drugs for a prolonged period of time. The evidence simply is not there that such persons had biochemical imbalances altogether different from persons not suffering from such symptoms prior to taking psychiatric drugs.
Regarding depression, it is claimed that depression is caused by a “sluggish” serotonin neurotransmitter, not enough serotonin being produced, and even before the FDA approved Prozac, Eli Lilly was making this claim. Yet, the research even at that time knew that it was not that simple and Prozac was not going to increase serotonin like it was advertised. The idea behind antidepressants is that it blocks the removal of serotonin from the active places in the brain called the synapses.
For example, one cell drops serotonin into a synapse and another cell picks up the serotonin, but then, along comes an antidepressant like Prozac, Zoloft, or Paxil and it blocks the removal of serotonin, the idea being that the brain will “puddle” serotonin in the synapses. Yet, what Eli Lilly knew but failed to disclose was that the human brain does not like serotonin puddling in its synapses. Therefore, the brain responds by stopping the production of serotonin, by increasing its ability to remove serotonin, and by becoming less sensitive to serotonin. This is the reason that all antidepressants come with the warning that the drug could make one’s depression worse, among a host of other problems depending on the person, because the antidepressant is creating a biochemical imbalance in the same way as nicotine, alcohol, or even caffeine to a degree, caffeine withdrawal even one of many possible causes of depression. Although there is a generally common experience for persons suffering from something like depression – that is, intense and prolonged sadness – there is no common cause, none of which can truly be remedied by psychiatric drugs, though often such drugs can seem to be helping, a psychological phenomenon called “medication spellbinding,” as Dr. Peter Breggin explains in the video below.
How Psychiatric Drugs Really Work
Consequently, the withdrawal from psychiatric drugs can be just as dangerous as taking the drugs in the first place because the drugs have changed one’s brain. No one should cold-turkey come off psychiatric drugs and it is recommended that one begin the process of coming off the drugs by reading Dr. Peter Breggin’s, Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal: A Guide for Prescribers, Therapists, Patients and their Families, and consulting a medical doctor to oversee the process.
The late Michigan State professor of psychology, Bertram Karon, wrote of Dr. Breggin’s work, saying:
“… Psychiatric medication is often helpful in the short run, but if continued becomes a problem, and eventually a disaster. For a few patients it becomes a disaster right away. The first part of the book is a careful and relatively complete description of the reasons why one should consider psychiatric drug withdrawal or dose reduction and when. Included are detailed discussions of antipsychotics (neuroleptics), antidepressants, stimulants, benzodiazepines and other sedatives and opiates, and lithium and other mood stabilizers. The second part of the book is a detailed description of the best way to withdraw from psychiatric drugs, taking into account the specific drug or multiple drugs, the length of usage, and the characteristics of the individual patient. Case histories are presented of simple and of complex cases of withdrawal. This is information not previously available anywhere. … Peter Breggin has more experience in safely withdrawing psychiatric patients from medication than any other psychiatrist. In this book he shares his lifetime of experience. All of our patients deserve the benefit of our obtaining that knowledge.“
No Quick Fix
The idea of taking a drug to solve all of one’s problems is very enticing, especially for teachers who have to deal with thirty children every day and are told that a certain drug will “fix” a child that is more rambunctious than the others. It also is very enticing to people who are struggling with deep, prolonged depression, or have become deeply disturbed “schizophrenics” because of an intense trauma. Yet, the Bible does not give any quick fix to the problems of life; rather, when one first believes, he or she starts out as a babe in Christ needing milk rather than solid food.
The Christian life is progressive growth in holiness, looking at God’s Law and ridding oneself of all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all kinds of slander (1 Peter 2:1-3). The Christian life is anything but easy for people whose natural tendency is sin and Scripture admonishes “gird up the loins of your mind” (1 Peter 1:13). Yet, although will not be easy, we have the wonderful promise in Scripture that in Christ, we can overcome all the problems of life that have resulted from Adam’s first sin because Jesus is Lord and he gives us strength (Philippians 4:13). However, all this presupposes that a person has truly been saved; if one has not been saved, then such principles will only feed one’s self-righteousness if he or she does find victory. The biblical counselor, and I use that term to include the theologically-trained layman, must first make sure that a person he or she is trying to help is truly saved.
The Bible’s message from Genesis to Revelation is a message of hope, not in the vague subjective sense, but an absolute, sure hope. It does not matter what the affliction is, whether anxiety, depression, ADHD, bipolarism, or even schizophrenia, the Word of God is totally sufficient in dealing with the problems of life. I wish I could tell a hurting person that it will be an easy road in overcoming any of these problems; it would be wonderful if there was a magic pill that would actually solve these problems, but that is not what we read in Scripture. The Lord says (Mark 8:34),
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Someone may have a legitimate condition such as hyperthyroidism or a parent may be dying from cancer, about to leave behind several small children, but even in such confusing situations, the Christian must not give in to despair. The apostle Paul says, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair” (2 Corinthians 4:8). Such a person may have to work harder than the average person, but the Lord promises he will give strength and that strength is found in the pages of the Bible. If Christians truly understood how to read the Bible every day, drug companies like Eli Lilly would go out of business. Although there is no quick fix, the message of the Bible provides every struggling person a sure hope which secular psychiatry cannot offer, at best only offering the ability to manage one’s problems but not having victory over them. People need hope that they can overcome the issues with which they are dealing.
In John Bunyan’s famous novel Pilgrim’s Progress, the protagonist Christian sets out into the Christian life because of an intense burden on his back, seeking relief, and even when he reached the gate and gained entry to the way of life, his burden was still not removed. He only gained freedom from his burden after being taught from the Word of God in the House of the Interpreter and then by proceeding on to the Cross of Christ where the burden finally fell from his back. Furthermore, when Christian’s wife Christiana begins her journey with her children, Bunyan depicts her and her companion Mercy admiring one another’s beauty after they each had enjoyed a wonderful life-giving bath. Mercy said to Christiana, “How beautiful you are! I never saw anyone look so lovely as you are!” Yet, Christiana said that she did not see anything to admire in herself, but saw in Mercy everything to esteem and love.
Joy in the Christian life does not come from what we see in ourselves, for by the time the apostle Paul came to the end of his life he had finally come to understand himself as “the chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Joy comes from seeing the work of God in other people, Christians rejoicing in each other; the Lord said through Isaiah, “Be ye glad and rejoice in that which I create” (Isaiah 65:18), and anyone who is in Christ is part of “the new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The local church, if it is a true fellowship, is absolutely vital to the Christian’s spiritual health; on the one hand, we need private introspection, filling our minds with God’s Law and striving to be transformed like Christ (Romans 12:1-2), but on the other hand, we also need encouragement from other Christians (Hebrews 10:25).
If you are a church leader who would like more information on counseling hurting people, I recommend Jay Adams’s book, How To Help People Change: The Four-Step Biblical Process, along with viewing this lecture by Dr. Adams, You’ve Got Gus In Your Bag.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental disorder and you do not have a pastor or church leader with whom you can talk, please send a message. I will do my best to give you a few practical steps to take and will try to contact a local church in your area that can help you further.