Archive for the ‘Christians and Psychotropics: An Uneasy Exchange’ category

Doctor, Dred Scott is in Florid Drapetomania Again! Perhaps a Lobotomy?

April 8, 2014

Too bad those doctors who championed that notorious description of Drapetomania didn’t have Haldol at the ready to inject into their runaway slaves, like your nice modern psych wards do, it is so useful as a chemical restraint for bad behavior. But for anyone clueless about  “Drapetomania”, for anyone who needs a sad history lesson about this spurious social control technique — excuse me, I meant ‘diagnosis’ —   here it is: Civil War era doctors believed slaves held an  irrational belief –remember, this was dreamed up way back in 1851 — that freedom was better than chains. Because of course slaves loved their captors, and thus it would be irrational to escape forced labor!

This was actually argued as a medical diagnosis.

This is all very relevant to the debate going on about “The Gospel and Mental Illness” at Kevin DeYoungs site.

Because Psychiatry’s trusty double-edged sword of ontology and epistemology divides sometimes in uncomfortable ways. Until 1972, homosexuality was a pathological behavior, until Stonewall’s riots forced a rancorous vote by the APA to boot it out of the DSM.  Will “homophobia” be the next irrational behavior to be controlled by coercive psychiatry? Shall the DSM-6 suggest forced drugging for those fundies who still put up a fight against ‘marriage equality’? If not, a desperate despot can always avail oneself of the cute diagnostic category, “Not Otherwise Specified” in the DSM-5? That diagnostic black hole means psychiatrists get to make it up as they go along. What a useful dragnet it  proves for those rebellious peons who refuse to submit to the powers that be. Like Dred Scott.

Beware when judges  hobnob with Psychiatrists. Beware when they can issue gag orders to those who object to this form of social control. Beware these kinds of  comfortable relationships among the power elite. Beware when you become comfortable that  anyone holds this kind of ruling power. Beware the Murphy Bill.

Because this kind of naked abuse of power is  actually happening in this day and age:  Behold The Horrifying Story of Justina Pelletier. Psychiatry has legally locked up a fifteen year old girl with some unfortunate health issues that were of uncertain origin. But some nice doctors at Boston Children’s decided it was Somatoform Disorder, and since her  parents were interfering with their brainwashing –excuse me, I meant the curing of  her brain disease –they were denied guardianship over their daughter’s care. They have even  been accused of Medical Child Abuse, and have had gag orders issued to stifle their dissent. So Jessica is languishing in this jail– excuse me again, I mean nice comfy locked ward —  and cannot see them except in weekly supervised visits. Jessica, who was happily  ice skating in a competition before her unfortunate meetup with the nice folks at the notorious Bader 5, Boston Children’s Psych Ward, is now confined to a wheelchair after languishing  for over a year in a locked psych ward. Those helpful medical experts are now giving her psychiatric drugs, instead of the course of treatment other specialists of her peculiar Mitochondrial Disorder had decided was best. These well meaning psychiatrists are teaching Justina that her symptoms are all in her head. I hope they are not using electroshock therapy to accomplish this goal. I know I would cry uncle after experiencing this. I am relieved to note that lobotomies are no longer the current fashion in psychiatric treatment,that they are not suggesting A nice jab with an ice-pick through the eye straight into prefrontal lobe will do the trick Justina! 

Please go to that link and read that searing Wall Street Journal expose of the history of lobotomy, of the raw naked power neurologist  Dr. Walter Freeman held at one time in the 1950’s . It is deeply sobering to consider that the fabricator of this barbaric practice earned a Nobel Prize for his work, and so disturbing to consider  the sway his crackpot ideas  held over influential people — it was cutting edge science. Freeman experimented  on hapless vets suffering PTSD after World War — “in accord with our desire to keep abreast of all advances in treatment,” the V.A. says in a memo. His influence spread and soon people in psychic distress would write to him and beg for lobotomies, in order to be returned to a  “a surgically induced childhood.” His own description.

But it became a standard treatment for all the intractable and difficult to handle patients in psych wards. JFK’s father had it performed on his own daughter. It was as fashionable among the elite for a quick fix for anxiety, just as Ativan is to us now.

Faced with an ice pick, I think Justina would meekly say, “No thank you doctor, I will promise to stop cheeking my Seroquel.” How I wish for those who suffer the torments of psychic pain might have the silver bullets of targeting drugs which will afford great benefits, and do less harm! But for now I am in full agreement with Dr. Thomas Szasz, who gave us that illustration of Drapetomania for the abuses of psychiatry.  Although  Szasz  has some polarizing Libertartian philosophies that I cannot endorse, still I agree with him that “The Myth of Mental Illness”  is a linguistic construct that priveleges those in power to control behavior that they are uncomfortable or disagree with.

I cannot agree with that esteemed SUNY professor of psychiatry more. Every psychotic who is permitted agency to refuse dangerous neuroleptics for more effective and humane courses of treatment is grateful for his work.  Otherwise we might all  be hearing some Dreadful Doctor of Dred Scott saying to us,”Bend over psychiatric slave, because the DSM-5 has suggested that your condition is threatening  your safety. You really might want to escape this locked ward to freedom, and we have determined that fresh air and sunshine is not a healthy environment for you at all. ”

On this 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, please oppose the Murphy Bill HR #3717, because:

“People will turn away from forced and coercive services.
We need to feel safe and understood to connect with others.
We also need hope and a sense that we can get what we need.

So many difficulties arise in life,
especially when our parents, schools and communities
have their own problems and don’t understand our perspective.

Connection, unconditional positive regard,
trauma informed services and safety
must replace coercive, medical models
and forced services if we hope to help others heal.”

words of Cindy Peterson Dana, as a comment on a thread at Mad in America, titled– Murphy Bill: Violates Civil Rights, Increases Government Intrusion and Control, and Ignores Scientific Research

Naming Rights for These Afflictions — They Belong to the Legions

April 8, 2014

What follows is a cleaned up version of my rather lunatic response to the days-long moderation of comments which effectively shut down a potentially profitable dialogue between me and an anonymous commenter at The Gospel Coalition on Kevin DeYoungs guestblog discussing The Gospel and  ‘Mental Illness.’ I have tried to shape that hurried mess of double comments into a series of blogposts. I have tweaked the anonymous commenter’s name — because he has masked his identity, this moniker is meaningless — he might as  well have claimed to be Jesus Christ Come to Adjudicate  Debates.  That would be at least a hilariously appropriate identity that would have power to quiet any lunatics’ objections to being silenced! But his name is not connected to flesh so it is a waxed nose I may manipulate to suit my purposes,  like Psychiatry’s bible, the DSM-5 — when there are no biomarkers for supposed diseases, there is no logic and no accountability around the diagnoses. It is rabbits from hats, It is not Real. It is Not a Sole Fib.

We are considering deep questions of Knowing and Being that are certainly above my limited understanding of philosophy, and I will show you later how it is going to be very meaningful to you in my next blogpost, but here is where it Gets Real.  There are good reasons to have but limited respect for anonymous commenters on the Internet.

 Not a Sole Fib says,  “Don’t take the opinions of men too seriously – especially internet strangers who may or may not know what they are talking about and cannot walk with you, pray with you, or love you through the challenges God has put on your plate.” The irony of this comment is so rich:  where does this Internet Stranger, who was asked to unmask himself but politely declined, get off by calling me “insensitive” —  and what does he know of my real life? I at least cite my sources, and my pastor said he will vouch for my character, he said, “I let you watch my kids”.  But Not a Sole Fib  has informed the world at TGC that they cannot trust me as a source of reliable information — and readers these are not trivial issues we are discussing — life and death are literally at stake. What does ‘Not a Sole Fib’ know of how I love or pray for those  Schizophrenics who die twenty years earlier than average?

With all due respect Not a Sole Fib I still think there are still too many questions that you yourself have asked that I do not feel have been satisfactorily answered.  So we really can’t shut down the discussion now!   I am most interested in  these  two points –by whose authority shall those who suffer be named? And where can we more profitably locate this discussion in the Bible? I think it is interesting that Jesus always gives first naming rights to those whose brains are involved. He always respects free agency. His searching questions always lead those infirmed by sin to diagnose our own condition. Always the names we hold so dearly are uncovered by his heart-piercing  gaze, and nearly always these identities  involve idolatry, don’t they?  I do think the churches should follow his example, and give away the naming rights to those who have the greatest stake in the matter.

So I would zero in on Luke 8:30, because it is such a juicy passage, although it terrifies some. I suspected that it is why my first rough comment on this subject was moderated, but now I know there are Other Reasons. Have you ever noticed Not a Sole Fib, that Legion is never named at all  in the church’s Conversation about Mental Illness? Nor, lest some horses and grandmothers  become too alarmed,  should he be always named in these discussions.  As  Sam Storms  says on this issue

“Some are not healed because the demonic cause of the affliction has not been addressed. Please do not jump to unwarranted conclusions. I am not suggesting that all physical disease is demonically induced. It is interesting, is it not, that in Paul’s case God used “a messenger of Satan” to inflict the thorn?”

I am fascinated by the reasoning behind names and our fear of some names. The church has become so afraid of naming things ‘evil’. Why are we so afraid of saying Legions name? I have some ideas about that. I wrote a blogpost that examines what happens when the biblical descriptions collide with modern science, as demonstrated in the fascinating story of the woman with a “brain on fire” — classic-seeming demon possession diagnosed by medicine — she had ‘anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis’ and was treated successfully with plasma. Very interesting questions are raised. What do you think?

I think those taxonomists of the Human Condition need to give the survivors and sufferers back our naming rights. It is part of our healing to name the thing. I would so much rather be a Magdalene slapped forever with the notorious label “She From Whom Seven Demons Were Delivered”, than be left with your own stigmatizing and dehumanizing diagnosis of  ‘Schizoaffective Disorder’– at least there is hope for a demoniac that they  can always be forever free of torment, if they keep their house clean and well ordered. Those you name ‘Mentally Ill’ and ” incurable”, for  purposes that privilege those in power — think of Szasz’ example of Drapetomania, for  example — are then left often permanently  crippled by your defective drugs, and certainly stigmatized by your permanent label of a Defective Brain.  Except those fortunate crazies living in a third world country, without any medical treatment — we know their outcome of recovery from schizophrenia without relapse is far better, according to two World Health Organization studies.

The First Worlds’ Worried Well have all the right to all the Ativan they imagine will aid them. I am sorry they have so little real informed consent. But as Jesus said, it is the sick who need a physician.

I read about all these kind of hurting people in the secular blog “Mad in America“, which is unique in that it levels the playing field and gives away the naming rights to all those parties who are interested in the issues surrounding  Critical Psychiatry, and listens respectfully to those with lived experience.MIA does a wonderful job in offering hospitality to those who suffer the terrifying ravages of a disintegrating psyche.

I know if the church spoke to those Hearing Voices the way that Jesus did, and let them name their own infirmities, they would listen to us more. I can assure you, many afflicted at Mad in America  would rather fall into the arms of Jesus —  who touched agonized people like them with authority, and then set them free–I am sure those unfortunates would rather be treated with such compassion than fall into the hands of unrighteous  men who might  force them into psych wards. Because their name for those places is “torture chambers.”

I tell you that field is white with harvest. You Christian Thought Leaders think the world will lose respect for us if we tell them the story of Legion, and connect his case to any real condition. I think it just depends on what world you want to reach.   Please don’t frighten my friends if they visit your churches — allow them to give you their name. Please don’t force drugging on them, even if they are a harm to themselves, or to others. If they are going to harm themselves, they need friends who listen closely, and they need hope for the future. If they have harmed others, the place for them is called a  jail.

I wish there were networks of churches that share my kind of taxonomy, so that my friends hurting from Psychiatric abuse can easily identify where their agency will be respected, and where they will feel safe– kind of like a “Joni and Friends” network — but that is a discussion for another day. Already I have gone over a thousand words.  Thanks for listening, those who have come this far!

On this 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, please oppose the Murphy Bill HR #3717, because:

“People will turn away from forced and coercive services.
We need to feel safe and understood to connect with others.
We also need hope and a sense that we can get what we need.

So many difficulties arise in life,
especially when our parents, schools and communities
have their own problems and don’t understand our perspective.

Connection, unconditional positive regard,
trauma informed services and safety
must replace coercive, medical models
and forced services if we hope to help others heal.”

words of Cindy Peterson Dana, as a comment on a thread at Mad in America, titled– Murphy Bill: Violates Civil Rights, Increases Government Intrusion and Control, and Ignores Scientific Research

Heath Lambert and The Rabbits Psychiatrists Pulled From Hats — Like Retts’s Syndrome from the DSM

April 3, 2014

So Heath Lambert says, very baldly: Mental Ilness is a Atheistic Myth.  And this has riled some.

He notes the interesting fluidity of psychiatric classification that exists  for a diagnosis, without a biological marker to define it. Lots of people do not understand this. They have been trained so long with the convenient  myth of the chemical imbalance theory, they actually think there is other things besides behavior that get you labeled crazy for life.  This is a paradigm shift for some, and it makes them really mad.

In particular,  David  Murray has got his Scottish up over Heath Lambert’s blog series. I got my own Irish up about some months ago over the  apalling lack of informed consent Murray demonstrated  in his blogpost “I’m Thinking of Going to the Doctor for Depression Meds.”  I did apologize on Challies for my uncharitable spirit,  I once again extend to Dr. Murray a sincere apology for implying he was not a good sheperd of his sheep. I am sure he is a fine pastor. He is just wrong in counseling depressed persons.  Since Bob Kelleman sucessfully countered Murray’s callous dismissal of legitimate concerns concerning psychiatric medication’s harmful side effects, and his dangerous  legitimization of non-Christian CBT practitioners, I was able to give my Irish some rest, and I agree with Lambert, we can do better than this in speaking truth with love.  I want to do better.

Update October 2014: I can certainly do better in comment boxes as well. It is painful for me to reread my posts at that TGC guestblog — I sound completely unhinged. I wrote in haste, and some were double-posted, and I was alarmed that comment moderation was continuing over several days. I thought the discussion was being shut down at a critical point. Though I asked the moderators on TGC to delete the duplicates, they still stand and make me look unreliable as a reporter of facts. Gaslighting,maybe? As both a woman and someone with lived experience of psychosis, I cannot afford to look like someone  gone “off her meds again.” .  So I have ruthlessly purged the bloat from this post.

But David Murray thinks Lambert has gone too far, when  Lambert writes, a “massive collection of secular professionals actually agree with my assessment of the problem”. There were  howls of outrage in the comments.  But  in an interesting series of posts, Lambert tries manfully to loosen the grip that the atheistic  “Myth of Mental Illness” has on the church.

Lambert speaks so well on the subject that hardly more needs to be said, but I  will add  a plea here  for pastors and counselors to create a safe place in their churches for those who agree with Lambert, who want to taper off their meds, and feel that they are harmed by psychiatry. The process of medication tapering is messy, and can look like a relapse. My hope and prayer is that the the voices of the psychiatric survivor movement would  grow strong in Christian community, and that the agency we cherish over our own bodies will be respected. That the church would give up the convenient marginalization of labels like “mentally ill” —  and do the harder work of effective hospitality aimed towards our real needs. I think it is well past time for  Christian Mental Health Professionals  to agree with one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world, ‘The Lancet’ which has said, “It is time to flush the drugs”   Otherwise the Church will miss a wonderfully opportune time to minister to those who suffer, when the best alternatives being offered by the world to those wanting an alternative to psychotropics are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Eastern Mindfulness exercises, and similar tools borrowed from the New Age. We have the Good News, and the Great Physician,–-we can do better.

Lambert is in the process of developing an extremely nuanced argument, and I am sure he will account for biological factors in mental disorders. But still, his arguments are valid — there is no such thing as a mental illness! When mental disorders begin to be medical in etiology, they magically disappear from the DSM. That is Lambert’s  major point: psychiatric diagnoses are a construct of language — and Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz would add– of power.

Because of its coercive nature, much harm has been done to the sufferers of psychic pain at the hands of psychiatric power, with its scientifically unverifiable labels that stigmatize. And I think this is at the core of the pain felt by those who would be free of this inhumane and atheistic paradigm. Susan Beachy is the mother of a student who gave up on life after receiving an incorrect diagnoses of schizophrenia after a single psychotic episode in response to the stress of 9/11 — which in previous generations would have been understood to be a simple nervous breakdown, and thus fully recoverable. She poignantly said:

“Being told that mental illness is like diabetes is misleading and discouraging. This is not a fair comparison.  Diabetes is due to a well understood defect in a body part, the pancreas. Mental illness, on the other hand, literally means that your mind is sick. 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.”

Psychiatry is not valid science. Its diagnoses are voted in and out of the DSM by a messy and rancorous process. The irony is, once biological markers *are* found for any illness in the DSM, it is dropped as a ‘mental illness’! Look at the history of Retts Syndrome: when its genetic cause and neurological etiology was finally understood, it was dropped from the Autism spectrum disorder, and thus from the manual. This created quite the controversy, back in 2011, as the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative notes here”

“The DSM is about behavior, not cause, or ‘etiology,’ so including “a specific etiologic entity, such as Rett’s Disorder, is inappropriate,” the revision committee states on its website.But many scientists investigating the biological mechanisms underlying Rett syndrome object to that reasoning.”We’re going to discover that all autism spectrum disorders have a genetic cause,” says Huda Zoghbi, director of the Neurological Research Institute at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “So are we going to keep removing them every time we have the genetic basis of one?”

If the history of the DSM is any indication, yes they will.

Because, psychiatric diagnoses without real biological markers is just pulling rabbits out of hats. Or Rett’s Syndrome from the DSM.

“May Not Be Curable?” Really?

May 3, 2013

The Striatum; part of the basal ganglia; neura...

Here is my response to a series begun by Adrian Warnock at Patheos, who will be hosting a Patheos-wide conversation on Mental Illness. It is very distressing to read this sort of hopeless prognostications by one of the Church’s leading spokespersons of the Charismatic Renewal. I note that he is “a trained psychiatrist”:

“Mental illness may not be curable, but often does respond well to medical treatment.” What bleak words!  I’d like to share a more hopeful narrative, one of complete recovery from psychosis. But first, let me push back on the idea that ‘medical treatments are effective’ — can you  offer supporting evidence?

The truth is,  you are actually better off living as a schizophrenic in a third world country without medical treatment, as your outcome of recovery without relapse is far better, according to two World Health Organization studies. These found 63.7% of the patients in the poor countries were doing fairly well at the end of two years. In contrast, only  36.9% of the patients in the U.S. and six other developed countries were doing fairly well at the end of two years. The researchers concluded that “being in a developed country was a strong predictor of not attaining a complete remission.” In the developing countries, only 15.9% of patients were continuously maintained on neuroleptics, compared to 61% of patients in the U.S. and other developed countries.

And study after study conducted since the 70’s support this underreported fact, that patients do far better without psych drugs. There may be short term immediate effects, but there are greater relapse incidences. This has been demonstrated by the Vermont Longitudinal Study, the Rappoport study, and for example, this  study by Martin Harrow, in which NIMH-funded researchers followed the long-term outcomes of schizophrenia patients, and they found that at the end of 15 years, 40% of the schizophrenia patients who had stopped taking antipsychotics were recovered, versus 5% of those who had stayed on the drugs. Long-term outcomes for patients with “other psychotic disorders” were also much better for those off the drugs than for those who stayed on the medications.

You can find  links to these studies and the other information about them, here: Many of the contributors to that site, which is a wonderful resource for cutting edge science and encouraging words for those who struggle, have made the same conclusion as Dr. Jonathan Cole, the author of the ’77 NIMH study who titled his report, “Is the Cure Worse  Than the Disease?.”

For  those very scientific reasons, I would be very reluctant to be part of a church support group that “had a partnership with non-Christian psychiatrists”, particularly if they were promoting psychotropic drugs. But I have found there are spiritual reasons to reject psychiatry’s  chemical remedies, as well.

Because, like Amy Simpson, I too grew up with a mother who was Schizoaffective (a combination of bipolar and schizophrenia),  and I myself had a post-partum psychotic break. My mother came to know the Lord before she died, and also had to withdraw from her psych drugs because of  treatments for emphysema. Her social worker was astonished at the calmness and lucidity she enjoyed without the mind-numbing effects of carbamazepine — she truly had the ‘peace that passes understanding’.  And  I also recovered fully from my own nervous breakdown, and from a lifetime battle with crippling anxiety — all without medication. I refuse both the stigma and the diagnoses, and proudly proclaim that there is great hope   for those fighting  for this kind of a dignified life.

Many of us who have recovered reject the accepted narrative  that we have a crippling chemical imbalance in our brains that dooms us to a lifetime of substandard living, and a dependance on drugs. We recognize these disorders are more than brain diseases, they are also spiritual crises. Jesus can and does heal those with “mental illness”. I am one of the captives he has set free:

Legions’ Brain Was Actually ‘On Fire’! or, ‘Where Have All the Demons Gone’?

April 24, 2013

Medieval book illustration of Christ Exorcisin...

It seems evil spirits have gone and hidden themselves these days under medical and psychiatric diagnoses. Because the fascinating etiology of poor Legion’s brain disease  was discovered in 2004 —  we now know Legion’s true name, and it was definitely ‘many’, look  at all the words used to describe the auto-immune disease he likely had: ‘anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis’.  But because even Dr. Luke would have been really confused when collating this history later,  our Lord preferred to call it a demon and perform an exorcism instead — well, at least that’s how I imagine we’ll see this puzzle explained to us by liberal expositors!  But unlike our modern theologians, Luke wasn’t perturbed by these rather medieval causes of psychic or bodily pain, as in the case of the patient with scoliosis in Luke 13:11-16. He, inspired by the Holy Spirit, called it a demon:

“…and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all…ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

It is so interesting to me that her curved spine was an organic disorder with a medical etiology, but the underlying cause was spiritual oppression. Jesus calls her a ‘daughter of Abraham’, too — an indication she was a believer! And in Matthew 17:15, the Greek word used to describe the epileptic boy as a ‘lunatic’ was a medical term, stemming from the belief that epileptic seizures were affected by the phases of the moon. It is a theory as outdated now as the recently discarded ‘chemical imbalance’ explanation for brain disorders –- but, notice Jesus doesn’t  use ancient medical terminology, and  doesn’t diagnose the young man with a ‘moon imbalance’, but again, he frees the sufferer of an organic disease from a demonic spirit.

Matthew Henry comments on this passage, “There was also something in the malady which rendered the cure difficult. The extraordinary power of Satan must not discourage our faith, but quicken us to more earnestness in praying to God for the increase of it. Do we wonder to see Satan’s bodily possession of this young man from a child, when we see his spiritual possession of every son of Adam from the fall!”

No, I am not suggesting that every parent of a epileptic kid is showing a lack of earnestness in faith when giving their child Depakote. I am not ‘anti’ any effective medication, by any means.  But uncomfortable questions are raised when the contrast is so stark between the biblical narrative and the scientific explanations we are offered of even a classic case of  demonic possession — as the rare encephalitis of the brain, mentioned above. In this interview, Susannah Cahalan describes the florid psychosis, guttural speech, violent, inappropriate behavior and seizures that occurred when she had, in her doctor’s words a  “Brain on Fire“, due to  a rare case of that auto-immune disease, ‘anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis’, I linked to above. In an NPR interview, she says

“When you think about the symptoms — in my case alone, this grandiosity, this violence. In a lot of children, you see hypersexuality. Even my grunts and these guttural sounds that came from me sounded superhuman to someone who might be inclined to think that way. … When you see videos of people — in fact, when I see videos of myself — demonic possession is not far from your mind. It wasn’t far from [ her boyfriend’s] mind when he first saw that seizure. And I’ve talked to many people who’ve had this disease, and one woman I spoke to actually asked for a priest because she said, ‘The devil is inside of me. I need it out.’ A little girl was grunting — they had a monitor in her room — and she was grunting so unnaturally that her parents looked at each other and said, ‘Is she, is she possessed?’ They actually said that about a little girl. You can see throughout history why people would believe this.”

No one would be lacking faith in giving steroids for this disorder, and it would be foolish to refuse the common grace of this cutting edge neurological research, and its effective remedies. She was rightly infused with plasma and healed within months, rather than dosed with what the head of the American Psychiatric Association acknowledges are completely ineffective atypical antipsychotics   while hidden away in a locked psych ward, which she acknowledges would have been her fate had she suffered her illness a mere five years earlier.

Now, let me think, what is the better choice? Effective therapies or a straightjacketed life?  So hard to choose, right?  But I do think these treatments make it much easier for us to ignore or minimize the spiritual components that Jesus makes very clear in the passages I highlight. How do we reconcile the biblical narrative with the medical accounts?  That is our real “lack of faith” — our unbelief , manifested in our unwillingness to examine the spiritual etiology of some diagnosable mental disorders.

Can it be that the wily deceiver can mask his evil work with physical symptoms that present as chronic diseases, particularly the idiopathic cases like scoliosis and cryptogenic epilepsy — and until the cause of  this variation on “classic demonic possession”  was recently discovered in 2004, ‘anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis’? That our Enemy can induce a body to generate these harmful antibodies that attack the NMDA receptors and manifest this disease, just as he gets nerve cells going rogue with seizure disorders, and the bones of the spine to curve in scoliosis? Because Jesus clearly names some of these organic body disorders  demonic. Will we be as presumptuous as Peter, and seek to correct Jesus’ understanding of the nature of the beings he has created?

The fact that scripture makes these spiritual connections clear makes us very uncomfortable, and some of us wish these passages were not in the Bible. I worked in special ed with autistic children, some of whom presented exactly like the lunatic. That is when I began to ask these hard questions, and no one has ever satisfied my queries — except some of the Vineyard pastors in the churches we attended, who perhaps did too much discernment of the demonic, but at least were courageous enough to acknowledge the difficulties, and to engage with the demonic, and  were praying for greater faith in dealing with them. Sam Storms has said of these kinds of intractable cases,

“Some are not healed because the demonic cause of the affliction has not been addressed. Please do not jump to unwarranted conclusions. I am not suggesting that all physical disease is demonically induced. It is interesting, is it not, that in Paul’s case God used “a messenger of Satan” to inflict the thorn?”

I agree with Storm’s assessments here, but in my repeated queries about the lack of attention the Reformed community pays to this issue of the demonic, I have only been ignored. Do the Reformed really believe the Enemy has ceased prowling around?  Like tongues and prophecy, the devil has ceased to oppress?

If the Reformed community wants to seriously reach out to confused Charismatics, its theologians need to seriously grapple with these scriptures too, and stop ignoring them, or publishing equally confused answers like Kevin DeYoung’s response to the evil of the Tuscon shootings, in the blogpost, “God’s Gift of Moral Language”.  He first declares about the shooter: “no doubt Loughner is messed up, crazy, off his rocker, and out to lunch. It seems that he’s needed help for a long time.”  But at the end he mourns a world that thinks only in these therapeutic categories:

The world, and to a large extent the church, has lost the ability to speak in moral categories. We have preferences instead of character. We have values instead of virtue. We have no God of holiness, and we have no Satan.  We have break-downs, crack-ups, psychoses, maladjustments, and inner turmoil.  But we do not have repugnant evil as the Bible has it. And this loss makes the world a more dangerous place. For the words may disappear, but the reality does not.

I agree with Mr. De Young, the church has lost the ability to speak in that category, but he himself describes Loughner in therapeutic terms, and  overlooked his own inability in striking ways.  Is it because we don’t want to look  medieval to the world, and  we want to have our blogposts featured in their online newspapers, so we shy away from labeling even this kind of deeply evil behavior demonic?  In all our culture-making, culture-engaging efforts, are we so embarrassed by this theological category that we that have absented the demonic from Reformed websites?  Check out this Theopedia  homepage, where there is not a single entry listed for ‘Satan’ or ‘Demons’  to be found in the vast encyclopedia of topics! But the reality of a demonic presence in the world has not disappeared, and so the extinction of that category indeed, “makes the world a more dangerous place.”

For when Legion comes, piteously crying  and running naked  through our  graveyards, cutting himself with stones while he demands, “What have you to do with me?”– will we ask him his name? Of course  we will like it better when he answers, ‘Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis’!  So neat and tidily settled — just give him a pill!

But  when he says, ” Legion!” , will we respond like Jesus?  With a stern, “Come out of him!” Or will we listen for fifteen minutes to his ravings, identify him as a paranoid schizophrenic who is clearly a danger to himself,  and then force him into emergency treatment with neuroleptics? With a diagnosis of a lifetime disorder hopelessly intractable, and difficult  to treat without a course of many different drugs, each drug responding to the other’s iatrogenic effect? No wonder so many sufferers commit suicide upon receiving such a diagnoses.  After Susan Beachy’s son died in despair soon after  he was labeled a “schizophrenic”,  she  eloquently wrote,

Being told that mental illness is like diabetes is misleading and discouraging. This is not a fair comparison.Diabetes is due to a well understood defect in a body part, the pancreas. Mental illness, on the other hand, literally means that your mind is sick. 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.

It seems the church has forgotten some of our biblical ways of healing and even delivering those who live in this kind of despair.  We have become very ignorant of Satan’s crafty devices in our disease-mongering age.  So our enemy sometimes hides in a prescription pad.

Why, oh why, has the church  become so afraid of asking Legion His Own Name? And what is the purpose of the name we assign him?

This One Escaped Limbo

April 16, 2013
DSM Logo

DSM Logo (Photo credit: – jre -)

I have had an interesting series of comments posted at the Gospel Coalition blog article ” Suicide, Mental Illness, Depression, and the Church”,  but most of them  were left hanging in moderation limbo.  Just as the DSM performs as a gatekeeper of information and money for Mental Health Professionals, so the TGC weblog has been a narrow funnel for information to Christians of articles critical of Psychiatry —  which was largely the substance of my censored comments.  I know the moderators’ motives were protective of sensitivities raised by the suicide of Rick Warren’s son, and they were being careful of laying blame. I get it.  I am so sorry about the death of Rick Warren’s son!  I continue to pray for that family. Every parent of a child at risk knows the dread sometimes of opening the door with breath held, terrified of what they will find in their kid’s room. I have known that fear.  But the condescending attitude of some Mental Health Professionals on that site  was also inappropriate . Today’s attempt to respond  to one especially patronizing comment was finally approved. I think I would have had a real tantrum at them if they did not, so I am glad for my children’s sake they finally printed my rant,  again at this site here.

I would like to add that I have no problem with neurogenesis, except if this new paradigm for research prompted even more drug treatments that would prove as useless and harmful as their SSRI’s and atypical antipsychotics. Especially if they make children their guinea pigs, the way the explosion of diagnoses for bi-polar disorder and ADHD,  and off-label prescription writing has done.

I think I am reasonably informed and educated. I learned all about tardive dyskinesia and akathesia watching the side effects of these meds in my own children. They educated me about the incestuous relationship between Big Pharma and Psychiatry. My biggest regret is the emergency holds I placed on my children that forced them on drugs that gave them these crippling grimaces and unbearable restlessness. All the adverse effects that place them at higher risk for suicide. That is why I am so afraid to open doors sometimes, for what horrors I might find inside.

So spare me your patronizing attitude, Mr. Mental Health Professional! I would rather you penned a letter like this one by Dr. Mickey Nardo, who regrets not speaking out more forcefully against Big Pharma’s pernicious influence on his field, and spends his days since his resignation in protest from the APA combing the medical literature for faulty studies, like this gem he discovered about Dr. Robert Gibbons, who in his zeal  to reverse the black box warnings for increased suicidality from SSRI’s  especially among youth who consume them, he redacted data.  Google “Anatomy of a Deciet” at 1 Boring Old Man, … A must read for anyone giving their kid Prozac still. Or Respiridol. Or Zoloft. But especially Paxil, given the NAACP’s refusal to print a retraction concerning the ghostwrtitten- -by-GlaxoSmithKline  Study 329, that falsely claimed Paxil performed better than placebo and hid its adverse effects. Maybe it’s not too late to join one of these class action lawsuits.

Here’s Dr. Nardo’s eloquent letter:

“I think it’s time for the body of Psychiatry to look back on the last thirty years, particularly the last twenty, and acknowledge that there has been a lot of just outright wrong: producing and accepting lousy science; signing on to lousy science produced by others; colluding with the Pharmaceutical Industry in recommendations and prescriptions; corruption involving ghost-writing, guest authoring, conflicts of interest, direct drug promotion, downplaying or ignoring adverse effects. And then there were some really big sins – TMAP comes to mind. It’s a great big collective blemish, maybe more like an open festering wound. And yet I can’t really seem to talk about it without laying the blame elsewhere – PHARMA, Managed Care, KOLs, Neuroscientists, Psychopharmacologists, the Analysts [before I became one], the DSM committees, the APA. And it’s hard to say I’m sorry to patients harmed, without quickly adding, “but I didn’t do that with my patients.”

Even though that last comment is true in so far as I know it, it still doesn’t help with a background discomfort that lingers, transcending any disavowals that pass through my mind.” More here:

How I wish we had Dr. Nardo’s compassionate care for our daughters when they were spinning out of control, instead of the greedy quacks we had, like the one who charged our family that is living on the edge of bankruptcy– because of their failed therapies — $100 for a missed appointment, because of a bus mis-schedule. The last appointment we made with him! We wasted so much on Psychiatry’s mess of potage, all of it was wasted, all  of our meager time and treasure that was invested in it is less than worthless now. And sadly,  we wasted much of our children’s great talents.

Getting A Whirlwind for Depression — Not a Wellbutrin: Carl Trueman on God’s Curious Bedside Manner With Job

February 18, 2013

Do we make too much of suffering?  Is depression sinful?  Is it always the result of personal sin?  Or poor preaching?  Or defective theology and unbalanced homiletic emphases?  I am convinced that this is not so.   Once one moves in that direction, one is positing a tight and necessary connection between personal issues and specific suffering.   That is not biblical and is pastorally very dangerous.  Yes, suffering can sometimes be that way: the man who cheats on his wife and loses his family suffers as a direct result of his personal sin.  But is the depressed person necessarily suffering because of some specific sin?   The Bible, I believe, teaches that this is not so.

Job boils.jpgPreaching through Job recently, I was very struck by the Lord’s final intervention.   Job has suffered incredibly throughout the book; and we, the readers, know that none of this is his fault.  It is the result of the battle between God and the Accuser and, if anything, Job’s suffering is thus the result of his devotion to the Lord, which Satan wishes to test.   And by the end of Job’s last big speech (Job 31) he is depressed, and with good reason.  The man has lost everything.

When God finally comes to Job, to this man who has suffered so much devastation, it is stunning that he comes in the whirlwind.  No still small voice here: he comes in the whirlwind (and a brief search of ‘whirlwind’ passages in the Old Testament indicates that is not indicative of what we might call good bedside manner).  Further, the Lord tells Job to arm himself as a man (‘man up’, I guess, would be the modern cliché) and then, rather than telling Job to deal with his own sin or even expressing the tiniest fragment of sympathy for him in his suffering, he subjects Job to a blistering lecture about divine greatness and sovereignty.  Then, when Job has been crushed into silence, the Lord pushes on relentlessly, describing two terrifying beasts, Behemoth and Leviathan.   If Robert Fyall’s exegesis is correct (and I believe it is) then Leviathan is Satan; thus, only at this point does God offer any real help (as we might understand it) to Job, as he lifts the curtain just a little and allows Job to grasp that his suffering is a function of a greater and more complicated universe than he can possibly imagine, and that, whatever the empirical facts, the Lord has ultimate and overall control.

As I preached on this passage, I highlighted the fact that, by the criteria of today’s world, even by the criteria of modern pastoral theology, the Lord is a total failure.  Far too abrupt, harsh and unsympathetic.  This is even more striking, given that the Lord knows that Job’s suffering is nothing to do with any specific sin Job has committed or harbours in his heart. Job is not responsible for his own suffering: that is, after all, the basic premise of the book.Yet the Lord comes in the whirlwind.   Not exactly touchy-feely pastoral, is it?

The Lord knows Job’s suffering is not Job’s fault.   Thus, he does not tell Job to examine himself to root out his sin.  Further, he seems to show no sympathy for Job; he berates him from the whirlwind; he offers no kind words of encouragement; and he does not even restore Job until after the sacrifice and intercession of the last chapter.  We should also ask: how complete was Job’s restoration?  This man had lost ten children.  Yes, he receives ten more.  But children are not like iPods: they have individual identities, faces, histories, personalities.  The loving father knows that each and every one of his children is, quite literally, irreplaceable.  How many nights in later life would Job have lain awake, remembering with a broken heart the names and faces and the stories and the good times of his first children?  And none of this was anything to do with Job’s own sins or faults.

The lessons of Job are manifold but it seems that a few rather stand out: this is aJob family.jpg complicated, fallen, evil world; Christians can expect to suffer – hey, we all die in the end, no matter how jolly we might feel at points in the interim, so we had better get used to the idea; Christians are no more exempt from depression than they are from cancer or strokes; and the idea that these things are necessarily linked to our lack of faith, to our personal sin, to our outlook on life, or, indeed, to anything intrinsic to us, is nonsense and unbiblical.  A pastoral theology which has not grappled with the whirlwind and the speeches of the last part of Job is sub-biblical; and preaching which does not take these things into account is not biblical preaching.  One might add that perhaps one of the key lessons of Job (and the Psalms, for that matter) is: it is OK to be depressed.  It is horrible and grim and dark.  But it may not be your fault, any more than cancer or a stroke are your fault.  Above all, it does not mean that you are forgotten by God, even if God only ever seems to come to you in the whirlwind; and, finally, it does not mean that you will not participate in the glorious resurrection when all the travails of this world will be definitively left behind.

(From Carl Trueman’s blog, here)

A Response to Calls for Mandatory Treatment in the Wake of Newtown

February 2, 2013

There are so many clamoring for forced treatment of the mentally disordered. Last week, Gabby Gifford’s husband testified about her assailant,  that “he was never reported to mental health authorities.”   It is sobering to think of the kind of   “authorities”  who would be appointed for this purpose, when the American Psychiatric Association is itself in such disarray. The New York Times has invited responses to its recent editorial about this issue, and this is my attempt at it:

Dear Sirs:

To mandate psychiatric care in a system so manifestly broken seems a cruel and inhumane treatment for those suffering mental disorders. Those who argue that the system is not in crisis should be ignored, as they are not paying attention, or  they are likely the ones  who broke the system in the first place.  Please listen instead to those with lived experience, who have issued a mandate for care. I someone who has learned the hard way that the system is so, so broken. The symptoms of  Psychiatry’s dysfunction are overwhelming, and space constrains me  to name  only a few.

  • The APA has not even a consensus on proper diagnoses  in its newest diagnostic manual. “The gross incompetence of DSM-5 will likely return us to a Babel of many languages — different people using different methods of diagnoses” says Dr. Allen Frances, its leading critic, and he urges  practitioners to ignore its ten worst changes.   Some urge a boycott.
  • It has no meaningful disciplinary system — the government  recently settled against GlaxoSmithKline for 3 billion for their criminal marketing behavior, but the ghost writing authors of   “Study 329” had no similar correction from the JAACP, and  the Key Opinion Leaders GSK bought  and paid to spread the word that the whole world could be “happy, horny and skinny” with Wellbutrin are still writing prescriptions.
  • Perhaps its worst injury is that  Psychiatry does its greatest harm to those who are most weak and marginalized
    —  to those who are young and those who are minorities.   Dr. Frances in his scathing critique of the DSM-V I linked to above, rightly rebukes  Child Psychiatry for expanding its  diagnostic dragnet with Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder rather than repenting of its “sorry  track record” and calls  the field  to “engage itself now in the crucial task of educating practitioners and the public about the difficulty of accurately diagnosing children and the risks of over- medicating them.” And when persons of color are given a stigmatizing diagnosis like schizophrenia at a higher rate, and given harsher treatments for their mental disorders –it is what  this author calls  Psychiatry’s  “darker side of cultural variance, as not only does it affect the diagnosis, but it can also negatively effect the patient’s treatment.”  There is a reason it is people of color who are largely the ones housed in the nations largest mental health facilities,  that is, our county jails.

I have loved ones who have been treated by the psychiatric system. Twice I have had to place involuntary psychiatric holds, so  I know intimately the anguish of this decision, and the helplessness one feels when it seems little can be done to help a dear one spinning out of control. But I know equally well the futility  of such mandated care — the bureaucratic nightmare Psychiatry’s inapt answers  and broken delivery system forces upon the already suffering extended family.  The crisis is especially acute in the care of adolescents at risk.

When my own loved ones began showing symptoms,  we went through psychiatrist after psychiatrist. I found out again that the system is so, so broken. The meds  prescribed off-label made things so much worse, adding paranoia, weight gain and tardive dyskinesia into the volatile mix of symptoms .  These brave dear ones have defied the system and their psychiatric labels.  They did the research, cheeked their meds and tapered themselves off  psychotropics completely, and in the process they educated me. Their days are not without struggle, but they hold a narrative of hope and recovery now that emboldens them to persevere in the fight for a dignified life. They refuse the psychiatric  establishment’s  story that they have a crippling chemical imbalance in their brains that dooms them  to a lifetime of substandard living.

I wish I had never gone bankrupt with that first 5150 years ago — it  depleted our resources , financially and emotionally. I found out too late that forcing treatment does more harm than good. I wish I had never made use of these kinds of empty answers for those souls in distress so many years ago. I learned too late that I have something greater than Psychiatry’s bad ‘physic’. I have the Great Physician. I have the Gospel, and I have the helping community a healthy church demonstrates, and what the psychiatric system consistently fails to provide.

Until there are better proven outcomes from Psychiatry’s failed methodology, I think I will  do better to stay in my own camp for now. On the edges of accepted society, among the marginalized, is where Jesus did his doctoring, and that place  suits me just fine.

Out of Darkness — Light is Shining

December 3, 2011

A poignant story recently published  in the New York Times,  describing a  man’s selfless nursing of  his wife through a season of mental illness, left hanging her piteous question, the one all such sufferers ask, that I myself asked countless times as I struggled to glean meaning from my own psychotic break, “Why would God do this to me?” Tullian Tchividjian says this about that profitless question, “The Why’s of suffering keep us shrouded in a seemingly bottomless void of abstraction where God is reduced to a finite ethical agent, a limited psychological personality, whose purposes measure on the same scale as ours.”

Since there really are no satisfying answers to these questions on this side of eternity, I soon ceased with the self-pitying, “Why?” and learned to ask the more helpful question Description unavailable“How?” for wisdom and strength for the daily battle against the depression and anxiety that remained like detritus from a storm, after my own  short season of post-partum psychosis.  And I learned to love the “Who”,  the One who dwelt with me in the suffering, with even greater devotion.

I learned to  call anxiety “My Tether to my Lord” because every time the enemy of my soul tried to batter me about with it, the struggle against it only served to wrap me around my Savior with even greater intensity.  It drove me to Him with great ferocity, because I learned if I could only run to Him quickly instead of seeking to escape the gnawing turmoil within, the scary feelings would ebb, and I would  be safe.  I learned that often I was anxious or depressed because I had believed a lie, or a relationship was broken, or I felt abandoned.  I learned to wait on the Holy Spirit to enlarge my heart — to show me the way out of these terrible feelings, and enable me to make things right — to give me the courage to humble myself before another, or the will to acknowledge what was true, and line my thoughts up with how God viewed things.

And in this simple way I was  healed: truth by truth. But because it was simple does not mean it was  easy.  I felt like I was in a kind of intense rehabilitative physical therapy for my soul– every tangled thought was painfully stretched out for examination in the light, and put back  in proper alignment with the word of God.

Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”  And in answer to His prayer I applied His Word to replace every lie,  and so I was healed.  There are no other ways to repair a mind. Secular Psychology  calls this process cognitive therapy. Christianity calls it “renewing the mind.” Any other way out of soul-pain is only a  band-aid. And those therapies without God’s cure for souls  merely mask symptoms.

Like Happy Pills that take the edge off psychic pain, but can dull a keen attention most needed, and sap from our meager rations the energy most required  for active aggression against our mind’s  defections from the truth. This study indicates that the meds commonly prescribed for anxiety actually increase anxiety with long term use, and hinder Cognitive Behavior Therapies.  Psychotropic drugs can 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.”

I was shaken to wakefulness at last, when  in His sovereign will He allowed me to suffer a psychotic break.  I thank God for this ‘severe mercy’  –it woke me to do urgent battle against my sin instead of devising ways to escape it. The struggle to repair my broken mind made me a disciple of Jesus instead of a double-minded person looking to every wind of false doctrine and wave of a magic wand in hopes to  make all the suffering  go away quick. It made me love the Word of God with even greater passion. It made me compassionate towards others who suffer, and gave me a comfort that  gives hope to others. This  weakness became my greatest strength because I had to  constantly depend on Jesus.

One who also knows this kind of intense dependence, Joni Eareckson Tada, wouldn’t trade her wheelchair for some temporary health and peace, because the wheelchair was the means God used form her character, as she shares in  her book, “A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Pain, Suffering and God’s Sovereignty”  She says, “So here I sit, glad that I have not been healed on the outside, but glad that I have been healed on the inside, freed from my own self-centered wants and wishes.”

That is a hard thing to understand, and the hardest of all is to live this kind of suffering out daily — but our God moves in a mysterious way doesn’t he?   William Cowper, the writer of that immortal hymn, sufferer of great depressions and mental breakdowns,  spoke more wise words:  “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense/But trust Him for His grace.”

And though Cowper himself never had a ‘happily ever after’ end to his life–and how I wish he could have pressed in to his own wonderful true words!–yet it was his faith in spite of the bleakness of his life that provides the hope and comfort so absent in more happy-clappy  stories, like blogposts that list “10 Keys to Victorious Living “.

Through my struggles, I  have come to know more intimately the God who strides the storms of every life, and  though I know  none of His  Hard Sayings will be made perfectly plain on this side of the dark glass we gaze through, I thank God! I have been freed at last from a blind unbelief that ‘scanned His works in vain’.

And  unlike the author of the NY Times essay, who concludes his piece with this wistful sigh of nostalgia, as he longs for the intensity of relationship he and his wife  shared as they fought her mental illness,  “I think that is what I miss…A time when only two things mattered to us: life and love”, I do not miss any of my own bitter struggle, but I am thankful for those hard days.  They taught me what matters most: clinging desperately to Jesus  for life, and drinking deeply of His unfailing love.

Here is a lovely acoustic version of Cowper’s hymn, “Light Shining Out of Darkness” performed in English by a woman who ministers among the Germans. The phrase highlighted on the video translates to,”Behind a frowning providence/He hides a smiling face.”  Yes, what a mystery, His severe mercies can be —  His smile  is sometimes hidden, but when you resist fear, and draw near to Him in the place of suffering you will find His gracious Father-heart for you. Don’t miss it by settling for mere survival. Press into the Savior.

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

October 9, 2011
Picture taken by myself of my Adderall prescri...

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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, 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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