Mourning with those who mourn

This is an old post from Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog, but they recently re-posted it on their RSS feed: “Should Christians Take Antidepressants?

That headline is infuriatingly stupid. The subhed for the post is even worse: “Medication can help, but it can also hinder our reliance on Christ.”

Is insulin just a crutch that Christians use to cope with diabetes instead of relying on Jesus?

This is cruel and ignorant.

And when ignorance strikes a pious pose of sanctimony, that makes it worse, not better.

No pious jackasses sit around pondering “Should Christians Take Insulin?” No insufferably holier-than-thou idiots pretend it would be deeply spiritual if they said, “Rattlesnake anti-venom can help, but it can also hinder our reliance on Christ.” Or “An emergency appendectomy may sometimes be beneficial, but only if we’re careful not to allow it to overshadow our true savior.”

Yet when it comes to any kind of mental illness, evangelical Christians suddenly turn into Christian Scientists or Scientologists — preferring “spiritual” treatments over medicine.

This hurts people. This kills people. This needs to stop.

Here’s a taste of the article:

In a 2010 Revive Our Hearts radio interview, Reformed writer Elyse Fitzpatrick, author of Will Medicine Stop the Pain? (Moody), said:

It’s so important for us just to remember that yes, perhaps the anti-depressants are making it so that we’re not feeling those raw, painful emotions. But those emotions are given to us by God to drive us to himself and then to force us to ask questions about our faith and about the way that we’re living and thinking and responding to things.

Should Christians avoid taking antidepressants, instead “letting go and letting God” lead us through the ups and downs of life? I’m not sure.

Again, would these people talk like this about any other ailment? What if she had written this?

Should Christians avoid taking antibiotics, instead “letting go and letting God” lead us through the ups and downs of infection? I’m not sure.

Or who wrote the following as the conclusion of the essay?

Certainly antibiotics can take the edge off the pain of living in this broken world. But is it possible that we need those edges, which so often lead us to Christ?

I only changed one word in that — the rest is verbatim from the last two sentences of the actual article.

Seriously, this is abysmally stupid and it does real harm to real people. Knock it off.


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  • But but but MENTAL WILLNESS! These things happen because they’ve given up God! That’s totally why I had conduct disorder even when I was still Christian and–wait

  • Shawn

    Neuroscience is going to be the “Evolution v. Creationism” fight of the 21st Century, and this is simply a foretaste of it. Physical damage is easy to understand and not objectionable to correct, likewise with infections (pregnancy complications, especially for Catholics, occasionally very difficult, though.) But your mind is supposed to come from your soul, which means that if physical methods such as drugs can correct your mind then something may be wrong with the common concept of the soul. Anything that suggests that we’re meat all the way down is deeply upsetting to some.

  • Becca Stareyes

    I really hope the writer is not mentally ill, or knows anyone who is; the statistics indicate that my hopes are in vain.

    I have an anxiety disorder and (seasonal) depression. Before I started on medication, it wasn’t just ‘i feel sad when sad things happen’, but feeling sad and lonely when I had no reason other than brain chemistry to feel sad. I remember sitting in the hall after going to a RPG club meeting and feeling like, even though I had just spent hours with my friends, that I was the only person in the world. Somehow I doubt it would have been different if it had been Campus Crusade for Christ or a church service. I literally had to spend a night at home (thankfully I attended college across town, not across the country) because I couldn’t stop crying to sleep: my mother came and got me late at night, and drove me back before heading to work.

    Now, if an unscrupulous person wanted to use their religion as a ‘if you believe in God, your depression will go away’ bait (and when it didn’t work; well clearly I needed to give up more of myself), that is highly unethical, a jerkish and predatory thing to do, but might work to get butts in pews, tithes in collection boxes and volunteers on the roster. But it you want to actually care for people, you should learn the difference between ‘depression’ and ‘sadness/grief because the world sucks sometimes’.

    (Also, I’m on antidepressants at the moment. I can still feel sad or angry or worried. They aren’t some kind of magic happy drugs, they just do the chemical equivalent of making sure my sadness or apathy or worry holes have ladders.)

  • Fanraeth

    My mother refuses to seek treatment for her depression because she claims that it’s demonic attack and can only be cured by prayer. I don’t know if that comes from her Southern Baptist upbringing or the fundamentalists she got involved in after meeting my dad. Either way, it left me embarrassed and ashamed to admit what I was going through when I started to struggle with depression in high school.

  • … Huh. This is one of those weird intersection of topics moments- first a new troll on the Rick Warren thread, then a thread on mental illness, and–

    Matthew Warren, who suffered from mental illness and depression, committed suicide today.

  • Nirrti

    These folks who rag on people like me for taking anti-depressants should be forced to have their mouths stapled shut for a year as punishment. They piss me off that much.

    My mother, who was in her deeply religious phase when I told her about
    me depression, said “You’ll go to hell if you kill yourself” also. I needed her love and support and all she gave me was more condemnation? Fuck that shit.

    Then when I was taken to the hospital after finally attempting suicide, one of the medics asked me if I went to church. I told him I haven’t been for years. He then blamed my lack of church attendance for my depression. Then to top off the piece of shit pie, said if I killed myself, I was going to hell. He did me a favor because at that moment, I promised myself I would never set foot in another church service again and gave up religion. And I’ve kept that promise, so far, for the past 10 years.

  • reynard61

    “No pious jackasses sit around pondering ‘Should Christians Take Insulin?’ No insufferably holier-than-thou idiots pretend it would be deeply spiritual if they said, ‘Rattlesnake anti-venom can help, but it can also hinder our reliance on Christ.’ Or ‘An emergency appendectomy may sometimes be beneficial, but only if we’re careful not to allow it to overshadow our true savior.’

    “Yet when it comes to any kind of mental illness, evangelical Christians suddenly turn into Christian Scientists or Scientologists — preferring ‘spiritual’ treatments over medicine.”

    I think that this attitude on a secular level can be borne out of two things: An “If I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist” mentality (which tends to apply, conveniently enough, *ONLY* to the illnesses of others — but, brother, when a holder of that particular attitude thinks that they even *might* be ill, you’d better have an ambulance a whaaaaa-mbulance [not to mention the obligatory fainting couch and clutching pearls] standing by!), or a “You’re just a lazy, malingering hypochondriac looking for sympathy” mentality that demands absolute proof (i.e. a fractured bone sticking out of one’s skin) of injury before the holder of that particular attitude will even think of lifting a finger to help.

    The religious attitude that you (Fred) describe(s) is more subtle and insidious. It relies on the attitude that mental (and even certain physical) illnesses (such as cancer) are*Gods Will*, so best not to upset the “natural order of things” (yes, I’ve heard that phrase used in this context) and just let Him deal with the problem — even if it is a child suffering needlessly through an illness that could be easily cured. (I’m also convinced that this is one of the reasons why Evangelicals/Fundiamentalists are against medical marijuana. Also, I think that they see the pain of certain illnesses [again, such as cancer] as punishment *from God* for certain, usually unspecified, so-called “sins” and they don’t see why the sufferers of those diseases deserve — let alone should be allowed — any relief [or, God forbid, any actual *pleasure!!!*] from The Devil’s Weed. Messed up? Yes. Logical? Only in their peculiar ideology.)

  • Victor Savard

    (((No pious jackasses sit around pondering “Should Christians Take Insulin?”)))

    HaHa! That’s why I love YA so much Fred, “IT” is because just like the old days you really make my heart of heart smile sometimes!

    Be nice sinner vic cause Victor’s not on Insulin yet!

    Go Figure folks! :)


  • Actually, non-materialistic neuroscience is a topic that’s been pushed for quite a few years already. But no one’s arguing that meds don’t work (well, other than Scientologists and a few other anti-psych types, I suppose). The argument from evangelicals/fundamentalists is more along the lines that using meds is a sign of weakness, a belief that is sadly common among the general populace.

  • Just Sayin’

    Seems to me there are other reasons to be highly wary of antidepressants:

  • I can’t recall if it was here or somewhere else that I mentioned my father-in-law. He’s a new-age therapy-healing type, who firmly believes that all physical ailments are due to “unresolved emotions”.

    He very nearly died because he believed that it would be a betrayal of everything he stood for if he couldn’t cure his diabetes with meditation, breathing exercises and the contemplation of crystals.

    But, of course, most people quite reasonably consider my father-in-law to be Not Quite Right ever since he had The Breakdown a few decades ago.

  • Mary

    “Showing weakness.” Gaah. It’s like people saying “but that’s just a crutch.” Of course it’s a crutch. Crutches are what you use to function when part of you is injured or broken. Why on earth would you despise them, or people who use them?

    It seems to me there’s nothing Christian about wanting not to show weakness. Jesus showed plenty. He wept, he pleaded to escape a feared event, he bled, he died.

    I’m not a Christian, but what I’d say to Christians about this is: you’re called to live in the light of truth. If the truth is that you’re weak, show it fearlessly. (And if the truth is that someone else is weak, *protect and nurture them.* Don’t hurt them.)

  • lodrelhai

    Unfortunately, I HAVE heard some of the more extreme samples that you cite as things these people don’t say. Vaccinations, pain killers, antibiotics… heard them all dissed by religious friends, family, and leaders. Don’t even get me started on help for reproductive issues.

    It took years for my mom to understand that my antidepressants are actually helpful and no, I cannot simply control my depression and paranoia with earnest prayer and a positive attitude. I wish she would take the next step and try to get help or counseling for herself, rather than the constantly repeating cycle of praying to improve and then condemning herself when she can’t maintain the happy outlook.

  • Victor Savard

    Fred! After reading all of this and now seeing “IT” in a serious eye of a 66 year old man who respect his doctors and who also could write a small book on this post, longer story short, “I” must agree with YA when you say: Seriously, this is abysmally stupid and it does real harm to real people. Knock it off Fred NOW!

    Butt Victor! This is Fred Clark’ blog NOW!

    I hear ya sinner vic! Fred, between you, “ME”, “ME” and “ME” Victor still loves YA NOW.
    Go Figure brothers and sisters! :)

  • Lori

    That’s horrible. I have no patience with Rick Warren as a pastor or public figure, but as a human being I’m sorry for his family’s loss, and even more sorry that his son reached such a desperate place.

  • Guest

    because Peter Hitchens is a totally reliable medical expert.

  • Lori

    That column was deeply idiotic.

  • I don’t understand. Are you claiming that antidepressants turned Peter Hitchens into a raving d-bag?

  • She was taking a drug that has been linked in studies to an increased risk of suicide.

    I’d love to see one of those studies, because as best as I can tell the whole “antidepressants cause suicide” thing was due to confirmation bias after a politician’s son killed himself. If Mr. Hitchens would be willing to give the names of these studies, I’d be glad to look over them. I’m not tempted to take anything in the Mail (By Cranks, For Cranks) at face value.

  • Lori

    The issue of people having suicidal thoughts after starting antidepressants isn’t entirely made up by cranks. Some antidepressants are not recommended for some patients. For example, there are a few that, at least here in the US, they no longer prescribe to teenagers.

    The thing is, sometimes people develop suicidal thoughts because the meds are working. For some people when the depression is really bad they can’t get motivated to do anything. If meds lift the depression just enough to make action possible and the person doesn’t understand or doesn’t believe that there will be further improvement you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

    As I said below, that’s not a reason not to take the meds. It’s a reason for the client and those in their support system to understand the issues and work closely with the doctor.

    Also, people struggling with depression really shouldn’t have guns in their home. For a depressed person not having a firearm is true self-defense.

  • Hear! Hear! Let us have no more of this bullshit asceticism!

  • P J Evans

    When my mother was deeply depressed, I was patient with her. After she finally got help and they found an antidepressant that worked for her – it’s trial and error – she wondered how *I’d* coped. I admitted that there were times when I’d considered taking her to the local senior center for the day.

    Antidepressants can keep you from being really deep in that slough of despond. They don’t make it disappear completely, but they make it easier to get through. And they aren’t necessarily expensive (my prescription runs about $20 a month).

  • P J Evans

    There are warnings about it on the package inserts, along with the other usual stuff.

  • Just Sayin’

    His arguments stand or fall on their merits, just like yours. Oh, I see you didn’t make any . . .

  • Just Sayin’

    So you’re basically agreeing with him: there IS a risk of suicide. Plus a risk of the other atrocities he cites in these articles.

  • Just Sayin’

    Thanks for that inanity from the “pro-anti” brigade!

  • Just Sayin’

    Keep reading the long list of articles I linked to, he cites the evidence, just not over and over again.

  • Just Sayin’

    It’s not “The Mail” writing, it’s an individual. As I said, his arguments, like everyone else’s, stand or fall on their merits. Simple really.

  • This is a very personal topic for me. I’ve struggled with mental illness for most of my life, and, to be perfectly honest, the only reason why I’m still alive is because of my medication. I’m seriously agoraphobic, with…other issues, and without medication, I’d never be able to leave the house, and I’d never be able to function as an adult human being. My medication is, in the most accurate description, my savior, and allows me to live life. Without it, I’m a complete wreck. How dare this woman judge me!

  • There’s a far greater risk of suicide with untreated depression.

  • This individual is writing for a right-wing rag, and having read his column I feel comfortable saying that it’s a load of dingo’s kidneys right in line with the publication’s odorous reputation. His arguments fall on their own merits, but they don’t stand at all.

  • Naymlap

    I just read the headline and wondered if Fred was posting on that. The timing is uncanny.
    But having read about Matthew Warren’s fight with depression I hope that he found whatever peace he was looking for. It sounds that he fought a long and grueling battle with it, and no treatment ever worked. It’s really heartbreaking.

  • Lori

    If you think that was me agreeing with him then you’re as much of an idiot as he is.

    I hope that neither you nor anyone who is foolish enough to care about your opinion suffers from depression.

    Once more for the slow—Antidepressants save lives. Spreading fear of them is a really, really shitty thing to do.

  • Lori

    Yes, his arguments stand or fall on their own merits. And on their own merits they fall. He shouldn’t be spreading misinformation about life-saving medication and neither should you.

  • Naymlap

    During my worst bouts of depression I very vehemently refused to take anti-depressants because I wanted to take control of my issues myself. It was, admittedly, a bad decision, but I survived. It was my choice. The decision to take meds should be based on a person’s state of mind and the opinion of a trained mental health specialist, not some moralizing twit that knows a guy who knows a guy whose neighbor totally killed herself because she was on anti-depressants.

  • Gil

    Craig Ferguson said it well:

    “That’s what you do with depression, you mask the symptoms. The symptoms of depression IS depression, it’s not a symptom of something else. It’s not like you go ‘Oooh, I feel really sad’ and then your arse falls off. The symptoms of depression is depression. You take away the symptoms of depression, HALLOOOOO! You’re cured! But Tom [Cruise] was like ‘No, no, no Matt. Matt, these drugs Matt, these drugs they’re just a crutch, these drugs are just a crutch!’ and I’m thinking, ‘yes?’ THEY’RE A CRUTCH! You don’t walk up to a guy with one leg and say, ‘Hey pal, that crutch is just a crutch, THROW IT AWAY! Hop ya bastard! That crutch is masking the symptoms of your one leggedness'”. -Craig Ferguson on Tom Cruise attacking Brooke Shields for using anti-depressants to fight Post-Partum Depression.

  • I’m sorry, don’t take me wrong, I was agreeing with you. My medication has absolutely saved my life.

  • Give me a break…medication saves lives. Including my own.

  • stardreamer42

    Hell, when I have a plain old cold I’m perfectly happy to take stuff that masks the symptoms until my body can fight it off. There is nothing wrong with fixing the symptom if you can’t get at the underlying cause!

  • J_Enigma32

    If taking my medication puts me away from your God, so be it. He’s a nasty piece of work anyway, and wasn’t there when I needed the help. So yeah, I’ll let my medication help me – they’ll do the job of your God, since someone has to.

    I feel that a major problem is how popular culture shows us mental illnesses. It treats it as a character quirk, or something that can be fixed by the end of the episode, or if not, then something that can be laughed at, made fun of, or something that has a “trade off” – that is, you get some kind of “gift” for getting this illness, since, you know, the world is fair.

    I specifically designed Renee, the protagonist of my novel, off of my own personal experiences and to spit in the face of those. For her mental illness is not the source of a character quirk. It’s the source of routine suffering that she cannot fix; made worse by the fact that she doesn’t want to be that way and routinely asks people who care about her to make it stop (she asks her friend, Ofelia, at least once to make her stop crying, since Renee has no idea why she’s crying and is angry that she can’t control it). It’s not something that she can fix – while she’s improved a bit from the beginning to the end of the book, it’s still there. She didn’t get a gift for it. The one time she hulks out and goes into a blind rage as a result of her emotional instability and being provoked at the wrong time, she gets her ass handed to her on a silver platter. There was no gift. There was no trade off. And her illness isn’t something that’s made fun of – that’d require people recognizing that she has one, first, and even the people closest to her don’t see it or if they do, they see an emotional teenage girl, just like we’re taught girls are (overlooking, you know, the explosive anger issue and the fact she’s a walking cluster F-bomb). She’s 16, by the way.

    I want to believe that if we had more information and awareness about it, it wouldn’t be so stigmatized. It just intersects with so much that the stigma won’t be going away anytime soon, and that’s truly depressing. It intersects with sexism: real men don’t cry, so stop crying you damn wussy/women are always emotional man, you can’t tell what’s wrong with them so don’t even bother (or, more perniciously, men mean it when they commit suicide but women are just trying to get attention). It intersects with classism: you’re just lazy, that’s why you’re poor and you sit on the couch all day, rather than picking yourself up by the bootstraps and going out and going after life. It intersects with neuro-typicality: you’re not sick; look at that person with cancer, they’re sick and they’re not crying – you’re just trying to get attention. It intersects with religion: you need more God in your life, that’s what’s wrong. It hits all these points and probably more. Thus, people like Monica Sel will continue to say what they say without realizing what they say is harmful, since they’re acting within the matrix of “-isms” that they were brought up in.

  • stardreamer42

    Leaving aside the point that I didn’t realize the UK had its very own version of Rush Limbaugh, here’s the specific point of error in that article:

    which in many cases produce suicidal thoughts in people who hadn’t had them before

    That’s not how it works. What happens is that the patient has indeed been having suicidal ideation all along, but the depression kept them from having the energy and motivation to do anything about it. And sometimes, when just starting a course of antidepressants, the apathy and lethargy symptoms lift before the suicidal ideation stops — and the patient finds the energy to go and do what he’s been thinking of doing all along.

    This is a well-known phenomenon (so stop thinking you’re telling us this Great Secret The Doctors Don’t Want You To Know), and any competent doctor will be aware of it and take due precautions. Even so, sometimes somebody slips under the radar.

    A few people die of anaphylactic shock from antibiotics every year, too, but that’s no reason for other people to stop using them or to be afraid of them. If you, personally, want to avoid taking antidepressants should you ever need them, that’s your business and nobody’s stopping you. But to spread this kind of misinformation is criminal — YOU could be causing someone else’s death.

  • Steele

    I don’t think it’s a “Try to get converts” thing. I think that the “It takes us away from God” from religious people is the same as the non-religious people who just see anxiety as a “Weakness” and tell depressed people to “Get over it.” It’s not a predatory tactic to get converts. It’s just stupid people not realizing that the mentally ill can’t just ‘get over it.’

  • Fusina

    And God knows that If I could just “Get over it” I totally would. It is aggravating in the extreme to depend on a stupid pill so that I won’t attempt to off myself, but having had the experience of not one but two cousins and two uncles in my family commit suicide, I make damn sure my prescription is up to date and that I have plenty. (I also keep St. John’s Wort pills in case of total emergency, as the doctors occasionally screw up and they fill the gap as it were). But it is humiliating to have to repeatedly beg a prescription, and it took me years to convince an MD that I needed them. One of the times, I took a “test” to determine my need for them, and because I was fighting the desire to off myself so as not to harm my children (mentally, it was just me, I would not have killed them first) I was not depressed enough to need medication. Arrgh. That was a very bad day. Probably should have mentioned that one of my uncles had committed suicide. At the time, he was the only one–it’s just been in the last eight years the other three occurred.

  • Fusina

    Let me see, I attempted suicide once (and ended up in a hospital getting to puke my stomach contents). I was not on anti-depressants.

    I have not attempted suicide since I’ve been on antidepressants. I’ve been on them for years.

    You do the math.

  • Worthless Beast

    I remember once having someone tell me, Christian to Christian that “A Christian should never get to the point where they have to go to a mental hosptial.” There was also an adult Sunday School teacher I had at my old church (whom I actually still respect immensely), he was a kind and scientific-minded man who had just a bit of a lapse when he said that no true Christian ever gets to the point of suicide.
    I really cannot bear them ill-will. They were just stupid about the subject of mental illness, as most people are, regardless of religion. Secular people talk about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps or “just buck up,” or about how “weak” certain people who don’t fit society’s molds are all the time.
    I will say what I said on my blog tonight in response to a bit of news. I actually want everyone here who has never been diganosed with any kind of brain problem to repeat it to themselves. All of you. Read and repeat carefully after me:
    Because… it’s true. Unless you have a brain that’s stuck on emotional hyperdrive all the time… until you’ve faced down those feelings of worthlessness that won’t go away, until you’ve had to get help to keep yourself alive, YOU DON’T KNOW.
    Trained therapists know a bit… as do people who live with those of us who are off-kilter, but… even they, I doubt they really know. I know that bipolar disorder is a unique pain that’s different even from “regular” depression, and schitozphrenia is different still…
    Lithium helps me, is all I’m saying. I also finally got a hold of what looks to be a competent therapist and I started last week. There’s no guarantees of anything, though.
    The most frustrating thing is people who DON’T KNOW thinking they DO KNOW because, you know, they’re impartial observers who have all the answers because they were sad once when their pet turtle died but they got over it! Or they prayed and felt better!
    If you think that for a minute, repeat the mantra above. Repeat it until it sticks in your empty head. I don’t want to have to hang myself with a noose made of woven bootstraps someday just to make a point.

  • That was exactly it. I never got that particular side effect, but when I started this course of treatment I did notice that the total lack of motivation effect was the first to go, long before the actual ‘everything is hopeless’ effect.

    It does and doesn’t help that completely aside from the depression, I am keenly aware that everything really is meaningless and hopeless — as an atheist, I have to accept a cold, disinterested universe in which you, or I, or the human race as a whole is not particularly significant. The part I need to remember is that it can be significant TO US.

  • badJim

    There are reasons to be skeptical about anti-depressants. They don’t work for everybody; sometimes when they do work for a while they stop working, and prescription is typically hit-or-miss. They often have undesirable side-effects. There is a body of opinion that they work best in conjunction with therapy, and that in many cases therapy alone is preferable. This is not to say that they aren’t wonderful things for a large number of people; clearly, they are.

    The problem, to my mind, is that we don’t really know why they work. Most common are the SSRI’s, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and their effectiveness lets us suppose that people with depression are simply deficient in serotonin. That’s clearly not the case, since the drugs increase serotonin levels immediately, but take weeks to have an effect on depression. It’s obviously more complicated than that.

    There is a concern that psychiatrists now see their job as deciding what prescription to write, and rarely offering therapy instead or in addition, even though the evidence suggests that it may be as effective.

    I’m not a professional in this field; I’m mostly repeating things I’ve read in widely-read and generally respectable publications. My sister is a therapist and I can’t claim she agrees with me. It would be nice if someone with some real expertise would weigh in.

    My point is that it’s not as simple as a neurotransmitter deficiency which can be easily adjusted. We’re not done yet.

  • Rae

    “No insufferably holier-than-thou idiots pretend it would be deeply spiritual if they said, “Rattlesnake anti-venom can help, but it can also hinder our reliance on Christ.”

    Well, there are actually a handful of people who do see that as deeply spiritual…

    (Fortunately, it’s only a handful of people)

  • Is that a published piece, ongoing, or? It sounds both wonderful and horrible.

    I keep worrying that my APD has been showing through too clearly in my writing, especially while Lindsay is currently being self-centered and antagonistic toward everyone.

  • This so totally doesn’t do your post the serious justice it deserves, but it’s midnight and my brain has shut off, so:



    I have one, a rather large amount of credit hours from studying psychology, and I still don’t fully understand them when they’re happening to someone else.

    Maybe I’m overqualified? (That’s apparently why I’m not allowed to have a job!)