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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  • Thank you, that’s what I wanted to say, but I just couldn’t articulate it. Self wasn’t letting me just say “thoughts and prayers with the family” because it kept tripping over “Rick Warren is a jerkass pastor.”

  • Worthless Beast

    Another thing, since this has triggered a bit of manic-rant desire:
    Adding people’s deepest spiritual longings, inclinations, what they were raised with etc. puts salt in the wounds, but in echoing all who’ve said “it’s not religious dinguses, society in general is stupid about this subject” :
    Ever try to proove to the government your inability to function, to keep a job for any length of time becuase of a mental illness? Even one that is proven to have a genetic component with plenty of evidence that you’ve probably had it all your life without knowing “what was wrong with you” all this time until early adulthood? And your job record is a slew of month and week-long jobs that ended when someone fired you over having a stress/panic attack?
    I’m taking Disabilty now. Do you know how long it took me to get it, wrangling and appealing with a lawyer who only stood by me because he “believed” in my case?
    6 fucking years.
    My stipend isn’t really enough to live on, either… I’m living with support (from someone who is presently taking Unemployment)… I’m doing okay, but wouldn’t be on my own. I’m also, get this, *up for review* in a couple of years. Yanno, because my illness isn’t like being paralyzed or having cancer, it’s not “real” enough for it to be trusted.
    I’m wondering when the world is going to realize that sicknesses and disabilities of the mind are fucking real.

  • mcc

    “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.'”

    There seem to be some people treating the HPV vaccine as if it has religious implications, however.

  • Ugh, I hope it goes easier this time than it did getting on it in the first place. My SO’s mother had a stroke and was walker-bound, barely mobile, prone to falling and had porous bones toward the end. She had progressive dementia and often wasn’t aware of what was real and what wasn’t, especially if she’d been asleep and had a vivid dream. Her family still had to do these reviews every few years to prove, no, she couldn’t just walk into town and get a job.

  • Worthless Beast

    Strangely enough, I have a similar philosophy. I think the world needs more people who are honest, brave enough to show their scars, as it were. I think that it is the weak that give the strong a reason for being – that where one is strong, one should protect one who is weak, and chances are, they, in turn, have a strength of their own where the “strong” one is lacking.
    However, sometimes, I really wonder if I am too weak to warrant being alive. I mean, I’m not only bipolar (the “weakness” of a mental illness), but unlike a lot of people here, it hasn’t made me do the “walk away from faith” thing. I’m not involved in the church, I fit more of a “none” than anything else, but do actually still believe in crazy things like Jesus, and I’m wondering if that’s just weakness on my part. Certainly many non-believers would see it as some kind of Stockholm Syndrome (when in reality, it’s more like…it’s just stuck in my brain and there’s a kind of nebulous hope I get out of it).
    I’m sort of doubly screwed, I guess. The one way I can get sympathy with one group is dashed by the other thing. At least, it’s what I constantly suspect.

  • Worthless Beast

    I’m actually sort of hoping that some interest will be generated in my fiction writing. (So far, just form letters from every queried agent). I’m pondering self-publishing on Kindle an, who knows? Maybe it will take off and I’ll be the next J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins or something. Probably not. I’m not counting on it. If it were to happen, I do have a really interesting story to tell in interviews. (Do any writers ever have good lives before they’re known)?
    I just barely purchased two-years worth of webspace and put up a writing site. (Sort of reluctant to link to it here because I use my real name on it and… I’ve made people mad on this blog before. We talk serious issues here, so there’s a lot for people to get seriously life-ruiningly angry about…)
    In any case, yeah, I’ll probably have to get really nervous and shake and throw up in front of a judge again. (As it is, with the lack of job on my guy’s part, we’re living off the large-chunk award I wanted to put into an investment/banking thing to earn interest and…. can’t. Not right now while we need it). *Sigh.*

  • Steph

    “He then blamed my lack of church attendance for my depression.”
    The stupid it burns. I go to church, but let me tell you that my depression following the death of my mother was made worse by the judgemental people at the church I was attending. They were thought I should be over the grief in about a month, but it took longer than that for me.

  • Matri

    What’s worse is that he most likely did not receive any support from his so-called “family”.

  • badJim

    Anything that makes sex less dangerous is an invitation to sin. It’s not that God is in favor of cervical cancer or teenage pregnancy, nor that people in the throes of passion are likely to be dissuaded by calculations of risk. If you do something people don’t like, they’d prefer to see you punished as a result.

  • SisterCoyote

    but everyone knows that if you’re depressed, it’s because you don’t have enough faith in god to feel true joy, right? so faith is totally the answer, never medication.

    There was a guy i knew, many years ago, whose answer, when i was near-suicidal with depression, was to tell me to be joyful in the Lord, because he would heal me. He truly didn’t understand why i was so resistant to the Joy of the Lord. I don’t talk to him anymore.

  • Hexep

    Mental health will never come to China. Multiple revolutions will have to come and go before this country adopts a more modern, naturalistic approach to mental health care. At the present time, visiting a psychologist or taking a prescription of anti-depressants or anti-psychotic medicine is considered just grounds for being dismissed from one’s job. (To be fair, just being too sick is just grounds; there’s no protection of any sort for workers who have health problems.) In addition, all psychotherapists are required to report matters of interest to the police, and extant mental illness is certainly a matter of interest.

    In these regards, I will spend the rest of my life being neither free nor safe. if I were to submit to a course of psychoactive treatment – one which, in my personal analysis, I sincerely need – then that will open me up to instant dismissal from work, and could also result in my home return permit being rescinded.

    Life is cheap in the Middle Kingdom, and because I belong to it, that makes my life cheap. I don’t think there’s anything that can be done about it; this is going to be the millstone around my neck for the rest of my life.

  • Liked, and thank you for teaching me a new word :)

  • Lori

    Antidepressants are not a magic bullet and you shouldn’t trust anyone who says or implies that they are. However, the fact that they don’t work for everyone and can have unpleasant side effects is hardly unique. That’s true for lots of medications, including ones that nearly everyone perceives as a positive good. The fact that we don’t really know how they work isn’t unique either.

    People need to be evaluated by and work closely with a competent doctor when deciding whether or not to take antidepressants and while taking them. The problem there is not so much that psychiatrists now see their job as deciding what prescription to write as it is that insurance won’t pay for anything more, certainly not without jumping through hoops that many people, especially depressed people, aren’t able to navigate.

  • This fits in with my own experiences with Fundamentalism. It is all about Control.

    People give up their freedom in exchange for what they are told is Control over their lives, and their after-lives. The leaders of it enjoy Control over their followers. Everyone is constantly exhorted to struggle against life-affirming, deeply rooted needs, such as loving their children, seeking responsible pleasures, and avoiding pain; because suffering is What God Wants.

    And God, in their construction, is the ultimate control-freak; adjusting the minutiae of their days in accordance with the person’s perceived or actual compliance with the tiniest, more impossible of orders.

    Freaked myself out just thinking about it!

  • Amen to that.

  • flat

    Hey you are not worthless to me, we might disagree about things but you aren’t worthless to me personally.

  • I observe that much of that comes from the crowd (mostly, but not completely, religious) that thinks that anything that makes sex safer will automatically make girls sluttier. And we can’t have that.

  • It wouldn’t hurt for us all to also remember that you *could* develop mental illness, even if it hasn’t happened before. The brain is an organ, like any other organ, and subject to all the frailties of organic matter.
    People like the author of that article have no business writing about medical issues.

  • That Other Jean

    Yeah, my grandmother and aunt were great admirers of snake-handling Christians—but never quite sure enough of their piety to try it themselves.

  • Amaryllis

    I just typed a long, heartfelt response to this, which boiled down to “yes, you’re right, the current system is dysfunctional.”

    But Disqus ate it. Because Disqus is the illustration of “dysfunctional, ” and I should know better than to try and work with it.

  • Becca Stareyes

    Well, true. Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to stupidity/ignorance. I know I had some internalized baggage myself to work through before starting medication: though in my case I was more afraid of the side effects. (Ironically, I was one of the lucky people who had the first pill I tried worked, and the side effects fade after a month or two.)

  • Amaryllis

    I’ll also add that people who are helped by anti-depressants are…no, not lucky, there’s nothing lucky about having a serious debilitating illness… but at least better off than those who have the kinds of mental illnesses for which drug therapies haven’t been developed yet. Christians who are told to “mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice” ought to be rejoicing when someone finds help, not scorning them for their “weakness” in needing it.

    And at leasts, Christian like these aside, the culture at large seems to have accepted depression and bipolar disorder as “real” illnesses. Unlike those suffereing from the so-called “Axis-II” disorders, to which the usual response is, “you’re not sick, you’re just acting like a jerk, get over yourself.”

  • We are still very early in the history of the medical treatment of mental illnesses.

    Part of the reason we are still very early in the history of medical treatment of mental illnesses is that a pretty considerable chunk of the public isn’t quite sure if mental illness actually exists, and another chunk is quite sure that it doesn’t.

    (I’ve mentioned before, I have a friend with a PhD in psychology who believes that the difference between a mental illness and a personality quirk is determined by nothing more than whether the general consensus of doctors is that it would be profitable to sell a treatment for it)

  • P J Evans


  • Saffi

    Just like there’s a risk of death from anesthesia – which is why appendectomies are conducted by physicians and not DIYers. Are you “just sayin” that we should be highly wary of appendectomies as a response to appendicitis?

  • J_Enigma32

    It’s published – it’s my novel, the Blue Pimpernel. Renee isn’t the only character who’s mentally ill, either. The antagonist/villain is mentally ill, too, but he has a reason for why he does what he does and he’s not just acting because “insane = violent”. In his case, it’s “impotent rage = violent”, which is far removed from his mental illness (indeed, his illness, which is often associated with violence in the media, ends up saving lives).

    I wouldn’t worry if your APD shows through – there’s not enough protagonists who are heroic that suffer from APD, IMO. APD tends to be a villainous trait, and it might be good to shake expectations, just to show that APD doesn’t automatically mean serial killer/mass murderer (I worked with a guy who had APD. He was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met).

  • Saffi

    Not that it should be necessary to spell this out, but:

    It is not the validity of Hitchens’ arguments that is in question, but a) his ability to interpret scientific studies without a scientifically competent mediary, and b) his likely ethic to do so without any intention to mislead.

    The interpretation of those studies forms the basis of Hitchens’ arguments, and when the basis of his arguments is suspect, so too are his arguments.

  • P J Evans

    That would make me wish my depression on him, just so he can understand what it feels like.

  • P J Evans

    At least now it’s more or less understood that these aren’t things you choose. It’s brain chemistry, possibly inherited, and drug treatments are the most effective ones we have. Even when they’re not particularly fun (ask my most-senior aunt, who’s bipolar, has rheumatoid arthritis … and is 98 years old).

  • Müntzer

    This is actually not that far out.

    Quite a few psycholgical ‘philosophies’ see anti-depressants as temporary means at best that can dampen the pain but are at the same time unable to heal the pain and need to be discontinued if the patient is to be able to face and solve his problems.
    They ask the question different, though:
    Should one take anti-depressants or do they just serve to allow the patient to ignore the underlying problems?
    I am a bit conflicted myself, for at the moment i would very much like to have a heavy dose of happy, since i have neither the time nor the fortitude at the moment to face my issues head-on.
    If i want to lose them once and for also, that is my firm conviction, i will have to balance and rule my emotions and fears without chemical dampeners (which on top mess up my digestion and give me damp hands).

  • aunursa

    No words can express the anguished grief we feel right now,” Warren wrote in the letter. “He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He’d then make a bee-line to that person to engage and encourage them.”

    “In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided,” Warren wrote to church members. “Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life.”

  • Elizabeth Coleman

    Back in the mid-20th century, the so-called “anti-psychiatry” movement developed in the psychiatric field. These psychiatrists, such as R.D. Laing, weren’t actually anti-psychiatry, but they promoted the idea that some mental illnesses were simply illnesses because society decided they were too weird to be normal. This was during a time when the treatment of the mentally ill consisted of locking them in a hospital, where they were frequently treated inhumanely (though far more humanely than the old days of Bedlam.) so they had a strong motivation to explore mental illness from other angles. I’m not sure what Laing thought of chemical treatments, but we definitely need a balance between things which are treatable, and things which are acceptable. Or more to the point, some things can be treated until they’re at a level which is acceptable, by both themselves and others.

  • The thing with SSRIs *sometimes* making you more depressed at first – that happens. I was badly depressed in the early 2000s and was put on Lustral and a course of CBT to start once the antidepressant kicked in. So a few weeks after I started the drugs I went to see the psych nurse and she asked how I was.

    I flopped on her desk. “Bloody awful! I never felt this bad before the pills… That’s good right?”


    “The leaflet said that it would very possibly make me feel even worse in the first few weeks, so this must mean it’s working and I’ll feel better soon,” I said.

    “Oh yes,” she said. “That’s true, and you’re going to do well on the therapy. You have the right mind set.”

    It was pretty horrible but it passed in a couple of weeks and I felt great.

    (I won’t even talk about the first anti they put me on (Lustral was the second) but I had the “behavorial anomalies” side effect and I didn’t realise until someone else told me).

  • Wednesday

    I’m sorry, WayofCats. :/

    I’ve heard that one thing abusers sometimes do if their target has a mental illness is deny it, both to have more control over the target and as an isolating technique — it gets the target away from therapists, and gives the target reason to stop listening to friends because “they don’t understand you, they think you have X but you don’t really”. It also, unfortunately, works to isolate the target from friends in other ways — it can be hard to stay friendly with someone with severe anxiety who has gone cold turkey on their meds and consequently believes everyone is plotting against them.

    That said,I don’t know if the data supports this as more likely than, eg, an abuser insisting a neurotypical person has a mental illness as part of a gasslighting campaign.

  • Wednesday

    Durr, left out the big important paragraph that makes it clear why this comment was a response to yours. tl;dr, if someone or some institution that is very controlling, that’s a big red flag that they are abusive.

  • Guest

    I’m sure a lot of you have seen this cartoon:

  • I’m sure a lot of you have seen this cartoon:

  • Hth

    There is abundant evidence, in fact, that antidepressants are essentially all placebos. Here’s a quick, readable intro to the data, with lots of references at the bottom for those of you who like to follow up with clinical sources.

    “Because Jesus” is a stupid reason to be against antidepressants, but I do have to say that when antidepressants and therapy have about the same rate of effectiveness (not quite 50%), it seems to me like our health care system irresponsibly incentivizes the cheapo, side-effect laden remedy, while making actual therapy largely inaccessible for most people. And that seems a whole lot more like “take your pill and get back to work” than it does like anything that would be thought up by people who care about mental wellness.

  • Oh! I’d already forgotten your screen name. I should hope that story is published when I have a copy on my Nook. ^_^ I’m trying to get through Doris Egan’s complete Ivory trilogy before I take my trip to Michigan, but I have The Blue Pimpernel and a couple of other books to keep me company while I’m there.

    I don’t know that I’ve been consistent enough in my portrayal of Lindsay to claim that she has APD this late in the game, but I wouldn’t mind taking a stab at it in the sequel — an anthology revolving around her daughter, who’s going to be a very, very special person. If the first book is my deconstruction of a Tim LaHaye book, the second will be one of a Wachowski brothers film… *Cough* I could quite easily do a short story about someone with APD and how that affects them while dealing with a person claimed to be the messiah.

    I wish I could meet that guy. I’ve never actually met or even really heard of anyone who had managed to get APD under rein besides myself, and it’s apparently enough of an unusual occurrence that the most common question has been “Are you sure you have this disorder?” A lot of psychiatrists even advise being more wary of a person diagnosed with APD who seems to be doing well, as “they could just be pretending to lull you into complacency.”

    (I really hate that Disqus eats formatting even while the post is still being typed up.)

  • we definitely need a balance between things which are treatable, and things which are acceptable.

    Yes. With the understanding that some things are both. That is, I might be in a state that psychopharmacology can move me out of, and which society can accept me in, at the same time.

  • What is that in reference to, if you don’t mind elaborating? (Also, were you just “Dave” before Disqus eliminated OpenID login?)

  • Should one take anti-depressants or do they just serve to allow the patient to ignore the underlying problems?

    This strikes me as about as sensible a question as “Should one take painkillers or do they just serve to allow the patient to ignore the underlying problems?”

    That is, I can take painkillers in a therapeutic way, and I can take painkillers in a pathological way. I don’t have to deny that morphine addiction exists in order to justify pain management; I don’t have to force people to undergo painful procedures without anaesthesia in order to discourage drug abuse.

    Something similar is true of antidepressants.

  • stardreamer42

    So you’re saying that the deep suspicions I’ve been trying to be charitable and say couldn’t be right are right after all — these people would rather see their daughters DEAD FROM CERVICAL CANCER than having sex in a way (or with a person) they don’t like.

  • Elizabeth Coleman

    Definitely, and that’s what I was referring to in my last sentence. My schizophrenic mother, for example, has both good hallucinatory voices and bad ones. The bad ones bother her, but the good ones are perfectly harmless, and keep her company. Who am I to say that she shouldn’t be hearing any voices which don’t come from a source I myself can’t hear? If she only had good voices, and no bad ones, I say it’s up to society to accept her for who she is. She can never not be schizophrenic; she can only be comfortable in her existence. In other words, I think the mentally ill should be medically treated to the point where they themselves are comfortable, and it’s up to society to readjust their own attitudes to meet them at that point.

  • I was indeed Dave before the loss of Open ID. I used to link to my LiveJournal account; now I link to my Facebook.

    I didn’t have any particular example in mind when I wrote it, but just to pick an example, suppose Sam has fallen in love with and wants to marry Pat, and Pat is very very fond of Sam and would happily marry them under other circumstances, but both Sam and Pat are male and Pat’s romantic and sexual orientation is exclusively heterosexual.

    Psychopharmacology could in principle advance to a state where Pat’s heterosexuality is treatable… that is, where Pat could undergo treatment that made it physically and psychologically possible for him to be romantically and sexually attracted to Sam.

    At the same time, society might be in a state where Pat’s heterosexuality is acceptable, such that it’s socially OK for Pat _not_ to be romantically and sexually attracted to Sam. (Indeed, it’s in such a state today.)

    There’s no contradiction there. Both are in principle possible, and one does not preclude the other. In the universe where both are actual, Pat has (at least) two choices he can make.

  • Aw. Now I miss Mitch Hedberg all over again.

    Though apparently he never saw someone get diagnosed with type 2 diabetes if he thinks alcoholism is the only disease people get mad at you for having.

    Or syphilis for that matter.

  • Jamoche

    That’s assuming there are “underlying problems”. Just because we use the word “depressed” for “bad things are happening and making me feel bad” and “my biochem is out of whack” doesn’t mean they’re the same. The entire problem could *be* the biochem out of whack.

  • I know lots of people who think that taking painkillers ever is a sign of moral failing.

  • It’s more complicated than that because we’re dealing with people who don’t use entirely rational decision-making processes. I’ve been characterizing it as “magical thinking” more and more recently. It’s not that they would rather see their daughters die from cancer, it’s that they actually do think that holding fast to their moral outrage will cause the desired effects, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. Their daughers won’t die of cancer, because if they deny their daughters the vaccine, their daughters won’t have sex and contract HPV. Just as simple as that, and never mind that reality doesn’t conform to this.

    Deny HPV vaccine to girls and girls won’t have sex. Deny marriage to same-sex couples and they’ll turn straight. Deny welfare to poor families and they’ll turn rich. They really (sort-of) believe* this stuff.

    *”believe” is too strong a word. It’s more that they want it to be true, and expend a tremendous amount of mental effort on keeping themselves from thinking about the fact that no amount of wanting it will make these things just magically become true.