Bad “Physic”–or the Great Physcian? And a Doctor of Divinity Doctors Up His Blogpost

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I wrote these as comments on David Murray’s blog Head/Hand/Heart in response to his  lament that so many Christians were reluctant to seek treatment for depression, fearing that they would be sent home with a prescription.  I tried to help him understand that there is good sense and even good science underlying that hesitation to turn to psychoactive drugs. Update 2014: My attempts  are a miserable failure;my comments to his blog have been moderated, and Dr. Murray is strangely insensible to the real and serious risks of anti-depressants — and because of his dangerous advocacy of them without any meaningful informed consent, I am removing the anonymity I had afforded  Murray in my posts’ previous publication. I am also outing him about some blogpost redactions that before this I had just overlooked in complete bemusement. Murray’s changes whitewash the previous misinformed version of a published blogpot, and make him look more of an expert than he really was at the time –he had a newly minted book, “Christians Get Depressed, Too.” I think it was dishonest to make  such changes without noting the updates to the text. Those changes are made clear below, in a preface to a second comment I made to his blog–which was moderated, the beginning of a trend for me on Murray’s blog.

Dear {Dr. Murray},

Have you read those depressing reports about the effects of  anti-depressants recently published in the New York Review of Books?  The author is Dr. Marcia Angell,  former Editor with the New England Journal of Medicine,  currently lecturer on issues of Public Health at Harvard. The articles,  “The Epidemic of Mental Illness, Why? and “The Illusions of Psychiatry”   have generated tremendous controversy.

In her  cogent and jargonless essays  Angell   reviews three books about the current state of psychiatric research and practice,  and the new edition of the DSM.  Clearly there is a crisis in that particular corner of the world–these books describe, in her words, “the baleful influence” of Big Pharma on the practice of psychiatry.

She reports on research into the placebo effects of these meds, but also about their dangerous side effects, which are much more deletrious than a little dry mouth or lack of libido.  With long term use of psychoactives, the brain has been shown to be damaged,  creating a class of persons  permanently impaired and crippled by mental illness, instead of recovering from a short season of  depression or mania.

In her response to critcs in  letters printed in the NYRB ,  she writes that her detractors  “simply assume that psychoactive drugs are highly beneficial, but none of them provides references that would substantiate that belief. Our differences stem from the fact that I make no such assumption. Any treatment should be regarded with skepticism until its benefits, both short-term and long-term, have been proven in well-designed clinical trials, and those benefits have been shown to outweigh its harms. I question whether that is so for many psychoactive drugs now in widespread use. I have spent most of my professional life evaluating the quality of clinical research, and I believe it is especially poor in psychiatry.”

We  have something greater  than this bad “physic”.   We have the Great Physician.   We have the Gospel, and we have the  ‘one anothers’ that this benighted industry completely lacks.  Until there is better and proven outcomes from meds,  I think we do better to stick to exercise and biblical counseling for depression.

And I speak not  only as one who struggles with anxiety and depression myself, but also witnessed my own mother’s renal failure from lithium and the life sucking effects of carbamazepine that followed –until she was healed by Jesus, shortly before her death, to the amazement of her social workers.   Both of us learned how to take our thoughts captive to truth, and how to speak truth in love to others, which  precipitated the physical healing of our symptoms.  I walk in continuous peace, hope and rest now.

Update 2014:This is my second comment — which was deleted — that I made on that blogpost. 

Which blog mysteriously disappeared from the category of ‘Depression’ in Head/Heart/Hand  until it  reappeared, updated with the more current narrative explaining depressions’ machinations upon the brain — but missing my  trenchant comment, rebuking Murray for his ignorance. I do not want to assume anything about Murray’s motivations, he has never answered my e-mails about his comment moderation habits.  A number of my comments on this subject of “mental illness” have been deleted by Dr. Murray.

I have made no changes to my text, except if it is noted, by brackets. {…} These are changes that add some clarity to the text. I have tweaked the title, and I also took away the “Dear Dr. ___”, because Murray went off the rails in his responses to the Biblical Counseling Movement and in particular, Heath Lambert.  I had considered that although  Dr. Murray and I disagree substantially about Christians and the use of psychotropic drugs, he offered balanced counsel to those who choose to medicate their sufferings. I now believe he has veered dangerously off course, minimizing the risks of antidepressants in a reckless way. So I have outed him here.  

The changes I have made do not reverse any arguments or substantially change any of my text’s meaning.  Yet in the version of this  blogppost  that now appears for public view, Murray doctored the language he used in his original post, from an advocacy of the outdated theory that antidepressants aid in balancing the levels  of serotonin in the brain —  “There is actually increasing evidence for the “chemical imbalance theory” (which is completely untrue. Psychiatrists have known that the low serotonin hypothesis has been dead since  the late 60’s when the people who put it forth, like Herman van Praag and Alec Coppen, stopped believing it.  See http://davidhealy.org/get-real-peter-gotzsche-responds/, and Healy’s comments of February 26.) This myth was useful to the drug companies as a marketing tool, and useful to psychiatrists in reinforcing the SSRI’s placebo effect, so it became a convenient untruth — but it was never a working hypothesis after that period.  Now Murray seems to have rechecked his evidence, and erases “chemical imbalances” as well as some spurious research he had previously cited in the original version of the blogpost,  about disparities between men and women’s serotonin, and the growth of the hippocampus in mice — all have completely disappeared!  And he rewrites to  an even more harmful analogy of defective assembly lines in factories:

But depression can also be caused by the “machine” that processes our perceptions, thoughts, and feelings breaking down and malfunctioning. Like the factory with a broken conveyor belt, it doesn’t matter how many high-quality raw materials you put into it, the goods are going to come out damaged until the machinery is fixed. You can press the switch as often as you want, but if the cable is broken you will remain in the dark.

 

 

 Murray’s current narrative of  a “broken” brain machinery  that antidepressants magically fix is completely untrue. There is  is ample evidence that the meds themselves damage the brain, in several ways. The drugs “perturb neurotransmitter pathways in the brain, and in response to that perturbation, the brain undergoes a series of compensatory adaptations” and this results in  treatment resistant depression. In this article journalist Robert  Whittaker  explains this phenomenon of “Tardive Dysphoria” and the mechanisms that make it happen.

There is also research on the brains of rats on antidepressants  which confirm neuronal damage and death as well, and this peer reviewed article describes the destruction of basal ganglia  in the brain— perhaps the mechanism that accounts for the Parkinson’s like side effects of tardive dyskinesia that antidepressant users can experience.

But it is the hopeless narrative Murray uses –“the goods are going to come out damaged” — that is both inaccurate and damaging to the morale of these sufferers, especially to those in the throes of adolescence who areoften prematurely slapped with psychiatric labels, and psychoactive drugs that are toxic to their still developing brains, when they are simply struggling with life traumas. Suzanne Beachy, in a TED talk given about her son who died as a young man on the side of some train tracks — after receiving just such a toxic diagnosis of a ‘broken brain’, writes poignantly, 

Your mind, unlike your pancreas, is not just a body part. Your mind enables you to relate, set goals, dream, and have hope. If you and the people around you believe that your mind will be defective and sick for the rest of your life, you are left without hope of ever having the agency to build a life…We need not burden distressed young people with hope-sucking labels of chronic mental defect. There is a better way.

 Notice the snide remark about Dr. Marcia Angell by Murray,  “…she has made her reputation…” Ah, The gender bias is never more evident than when a woman reports facts!  Poor me! I have two strikes against me, I am a Crazy Woman. But enough. Here is the second comment I made to Murray’s blogpost.

 

Dear{ Dr. Murray},

I am glad you have read the articles– but please, don’t mischaracterize Dr. Angell’s career.  She is not some hysterical crusader riding out against Big Pharma.   She was not just an ‘Editor’ of the prestigious  New England Journal of Medicine,  she was  ‘Chief Editor’ for two decades of this most frequently cited  journal of clinical medicine.   Her respected stance in the medical community arose from her  judicious critiques of medical research, not that she was given to any tendency towards polemics,{ or that she slept her way to the top.}  So please, don’t say that her book, “The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It  somehow “made her reputation.”  Dr. Angell was already an authority on evaluating clinical data .

Learning that you have read these articles,  I am even more surprised to hear you repeating the disproven theory of  serotonin  imbalances in the brain.  It was distressing to read your comment, ” There is actually increasing evidence for the “chemical imbalance theory” or that you subscribe to disparities between men and women’s serotonin– without any citations of current research.

Although Dr. Angell’s critics  distort her stance on the biological basis for mental disorders, none argue that the serotonin theory is anything but hokum in their rebuttal to her essays.  Both of these writers, Dr. Friedman,  the director of Psychopharmacology at Cornell and Dr. Nierenberg of the Bi-Polar Research Center at Harvard, say that ” it is an outdated and disproven chemical imbalance theory of depression (i.e., serotonin deficiency).”  It is indeed embarrassing, Dr. Murray, when “20 and 30-year-old medical research, theories, and cliches (are) still being quoted in modern Christian counseling books.”  Or when authorities on anti-depressants quote them in their blogs.

And what Orthodox Christian would argue [your point] that our brains have suffered as a result of the Fall, or that its orderly working suffers as a result of our own sin? When I came out of the closet, at last about my own  history of  ‘mental illness’   I wrote this to a struggling friend online, about the PTSD I suffered as a result of being left alone as a toddler in a hurricane in Mississippi:

I do not understand why, in God’s sovereign will, my vulnerable child’s brain, still furiously in development, went through the rush of adrenaline in a fear response, and was washed in those neurochemicals that  altered its structure –  this is current theory, we’ll go with it — I do suspect a similar mechanism  may be at work in those with a homosexual orientation.  That does not mean I believe you were “born that way”, but only that we live in a fallen world and our bodies, minds  and souls suffer its deleterious effects.

 

Of course, Dr. Angell  probably would not ascribe to our worldview concerning [Original]  Sin and suffering, she  [states a view with which I am in wholehearted agreement]: “Contrary to Friedman and Nierenberg, I do not ‘deny that depression has any biological basis at all.’ I know very well that all thoughts, emotions, and behaviors have their origin in the brain. But it is a great leap from recognizing the obvious fact that mental states arise in the brain to knowing why and how they arise. Friedman and Nierenberg make much over recent advances in neuroscience research, but so far this research hasn’t produced much improvement in diagnosis and treatment.”

And I’m assuming (by citing the studies of  growth in the hippocampus in mice, {and the new use of mechanical metaphors to describe these ‘brain disorders’}   that you would agree that neurogenesis is this next Big Thing in diagnosis and treatment.  Here is a succinct rebuttal to that mouse study  { and the whole notion that antidepressants work to form new synapses or whatever in the brain}.  This comes from a psychiatric professional, who is a psychiatric survivor, —  who chooses to use an alias because of the stigma.

{That individual also helps  run a support forum for those who are seeking to wean themselves off anti-depressants, and educate others about it.  Many other professionals comment there, and so it seems a generally intelligent and well informed group–important, because peer support is a must in this difficult and dangerous process.}

The issue with meds is not just that they are over-prescribed or have terrible side effects — but more importantly,  that they are no good at what they claim to do! And, even worse, with long term use there can be permanent brain damage.  All  of this is accompanied by ballooning side effects for which even more meds are usually prescribed, {this is called “polypharmacy, and it is another side effect of the meds, which makes withdrawal from SSRI’s  protracted and painful, and why informed consent is essential before starting an anti-depressant} So most patients will describe this trajectory:

Antidepressants made me agitated and unable to sleep, so benzodiazepines were prescribed for insomnia and restlessness. When benzodiazepines didn’t get rid of the agitation, I was prescribed antipsychotics. All of that medication left me so sedated, the next step was stimulants. The addiction to benzos left me in tolerance withdrawal, increasing my anxiety and thus led to more benzos. Drugs leading to more drugs leading to more drugs leading to more drugs.

So these drugs are often iatrogenic — they create the very disordered mental states they claim to heal!   But every double blind study, even those carefully culled and sponsored by BigPharma,  have failed to show any long term benefit beyond the placebo effect for anti-depressives.  Considering the brain damage psychotropics do — that should alarm you much more than it does, {Dr. Murray!}.

Though you chide Dr. Angell and a certain unnamed  Christian of painting with an overly  broad brush, I think the brush has to be exceedingly wide to display all the harm done by these drugs, whose crippling effects are only increasing, and can only exponentially increase given the current fad of dosing  little children off-label with these powerful neuro-toxins; given  the number of for-profit companies that are preying on poor and desperate and ill-informed parents to encourage them to sign their families up for SSI —  if their troubled children go on meds.    Like the case of Rebecca Riley that Angell documents here:

In December 2006 a four-year-old child named Rebecca Riley died in a small town near Boston from a combination of Clonidine and Depakote, which she had been prescribed, along with Seroquel, to treat “ADHD” and “bipolar disorder”—diagnoses she received when she was two years old. Clonidine was approved by the FDA for treating high blood pressure. Depakote was approved for treating epilepsy and acute mania in bipolar disorder. Seroquel was approved for treating schizophrenia and acute mania. None of the three was approved to treat ADHD or for long-term use in bipolar disorder, and none was approved for children Rebecca’s age. Rebecca’s two older siblings had been given the same diagnoses and were each taking three psychoactive drugs. The parents had obtained SSI benefits for the siblings and for themselves, and were applying for benefits for Rebecca when she died. The family’s total income from SSI was about $30,000 per year.

The psychiatrist who prescribed those meds for that little girl took a vow to do no harm. { And sadly, she still practices her brand of medicine.} But the profession is severely compromised by its parasitical relationship to Big Pharma, and so the harm  will only increase, especially with the advent of “personalized medicine”  that the  marriage of neuroimaging, psychotropics and pharmacogenomics (which seeks genetic markers in order to target drug treatments) brings to the world, { as this respected longtime observer of the chaotic state of current practice, Dr. Mickey Nardo, a retired} member of the psychiatric profession laments here:

We’ve chased this industry (Big Pharma) interference in psychiatric treatment long enough to know the ropes. It’s time for some application of preventive medicine on our part. If they genuinely find a robust genetic marker for differential drug response, more power to them. I’m way beyond skeptical that will happen. The worry is that they’ll find a little something and blow it up into the greatest breakthrough since the Facebook and attempt to repeat the absurdities of deceit and pseudoscience we’ve endured for the last twenty-five years.

Since there are so few Christians speaking out on these issues  because of the stigma that surrounds it, I think you would do better to re-evaluate even your cautious optimism regarding the efficacy of these drugs.   I urge you to read the books Angell has reviewed.  Especially enlightening is Robert Whitaker’s book, “”Anatomy of an Epidemic”, but there is a good collection of his work at the blog mentioned above to get you started immediately.

Thank you for your kind words about my testimony, and your blessing on its continuance.  And as more Christians come out of the psychotropic jungle, I pray they will be emboldened to share their encouraging stories of hope and deliverance as well.  I can  only hope and pray the number of Christians reluctant to partake of  psychotropics will only increase.

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5 Comments on “Bad “Physic”–or the Great Physcian? And a Doctor of Divinity Doctors Up His Blogpost”


  1. […] Like Happy Pills that take the edge off psychic pain but dull the  keen attention most needed and sap the energy required for acting aggressively upon our mind’s  defections from the truth.  Psychotropic drugs enable  a truce that should never be made with lying thoughts, and allow the  psychic wounds of stinking thinking to fester  into a terrible spiritual gangrene.  Pain has a reason for being, as Lewis observed, rousing us from “our sins and stupidities… pain insists upon being attended to.” […]


  2. […] Heal Mental Illness?” Murray first came to my attention three years ago when I chided him for repeating the outdated narrative of the fanciful interactions between depressed persons and brain chemistry.   I was banned outright  from David’s blog when my Irish got up over the  apalling lack […]


  3. […] At last, Dr. Murray and I are in perfect agreement! 🙂 We have not always been. […]

  4. Karen Butler Says:

    I left this comment on the above blogpost:

    “Because you do not answer my e-mails, I do not know of any other way to contact you. I feel you should know about these things that I have published about this blogpost in particular,https://thenface2face.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/bad-physic-or-the-great-physcian-a-dialogue-on-christians-and-anti-depressives/

    and I am also drafting a post about Thought Leaders who should apologize for minimizing the harms of anti-depresants, — and you figure prominently in that discussion. The recent article by Scott Sauls at TGC greatly stirred me up again about this. I will give you a heads up when I publish.

    Not that it matters; the confirmation bias among your population is simply breathtaking.But like the proverbial starfish thrower-back-into-the-sea, if I can save just one from a lifetime of brain damage and impotence and tics, I will be satisfied.”


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