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.

 

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    “I am not advocating ‘Chems are bad, always’, i am saying that
    anti-depressants are not as easy as ‘take them, and then you are
    alright’.”

    Has anyone, anywhere on this thread, argued that anti-depressants are as simple as “take them, and then you are all right”? I have noticed a few people saying that that’s how it worked out FOR THEM, but no one is arguing that this is to be expected in all cases or indeed in any case.

    The only people I hear arguing that anyone THINKS that… are the people who are either outright arguing against anti-depressants (and a pox on them, because they are actively causing evil in this world) or those who are concern-trolling, a la “Oh, I’m not against them… I just want you to understand they aren’t a Magic Happy Pill!” Effin’ strawman. Burn it.

    “But that still should be checked, yes?”

    Yes. Which is where psychiatrists come in, often teamed up with psychologists.* There is a reason that anti-depressants are *prescription only*, or didn’t you know?

    *(As blogger Arachne Jericho puts it, “Bartender = psychologist, because you talk to them. Candy man = psychiatrist, because they give you the meds.”)

  • Hexep

    It’s not even painkillers; it’s medicine in general. And yes, I appreciate that it’s an utter non-truth, but I cannot cure myself of this delusion – I cannot shake the notion that there is such a thing as ‘medicine,’ and every use of it perpetually dampens its effectiveness in the future, from any type of ‘medicine’ likewise for any type of ‘medicine.’

    It just seems like the way that life works, on a larger level.

    By-the-by, as a matter of policy, I never snark. I am known to deceive, but never to be flippant.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dan.k.hetrick Dan Hetrick

    You’re right…but my doctor is the one who can help me make that decision, not some random guy on the Internet.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dan.k.hetrick Dan Hetrick

    Thank you for saying that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dan.k.hetrick Dan Hetrick

    I know what you’re talking about. I hear voices, and the negative ones, the ones that curse at me and scream, I could totally do without. But some of them are positive, and those ones are my friends. If they went away, my life would be worse. How would you feel if some of your friends just went away and never talked to you again? My medication helps me out, and helps me resist the negative voices, but it also dulls the positive voices, which is an internal conflict that I’m working through with therapy. I guess what I’m saying is that “mental illness” isn’t necessarily an illness…it’s just a different way of looking at the world.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dan.k.hetrick Dan Hetrick

    I’m lucky that I’m helped by my antidepressives, but my disorder doesn’t really have any kind of medication that can treat it. I wish there was some sort of “magic pill” that could help…but therapy is the best I’ve got, and medication helps with the other issues (like depression, anxiety, and psychosis). Yet I can’t really talk to my family about my problems, as they’re evangelical Christians, and they don’t “believe” in mental illness. Hell, as it stands, not even all the psychological community believes that my illness exists, so I’m kinda doubly screwed :-(

  • David S.

    “Pro-anti lobby” is name-calling. We aren’t a lobby; we’re a bunch of independent people who have opinions on the matter.

  • Trixie_Belden

    I’m sorry to hear you’re going through that. If you don’t feel that you can confess these feelings to the small group, could you find someone else, some other group, that you could talk to?

  • alfgifu

    Another possibility is that – for some religious people – there’s a strong association between doubting the basis of their faith and feeling really unhappy.

    It’s a small leap from there to thinking ‘if I didn’t have my faith, I would be unhappy all the time’. I’ve never personally left my faith, so I don’t know how it would affect me, but anecdotal evidence suggests that most of the distress is caused by the uncertainty. People who’ve gone through it and come out the other side as atheists tend to be just as happy as anyone else, it’s just the process that can be painful.

    Andbutso, a religious person might well associate mental pain with the act of having serious misgivings about their beliefs (perhaps particularly if their beliefs involve cognitive dissonance on any substantial level). Thus the assumption: severe mental distress is caused by a lack of faith, and cured by restoring that faith.

    If you are arrogant or unthinking enough to believe that you know a cure for all unhappiness, and are poorly educated enough to think that depression is just the same as feeling a bit sad, then I can see how antidepressants might look like a bad thing. After all, faith (in this model) restores a healthy balance all by itself, and is in direct competition with the drugs that a patient has to go on taking.

    I went through a number of years of deep depression in my late teens, and I was deeply religious throughout. My faith – and my God – did help me in many ways. But because I’ve never thought of God as a direct competitor with medical science, I was never threatened by the idea that medication could be effective.

    Additional thought: if medication is a crutch, and you’re recommending God to replace it, then you’re using the Almighty as an alternative crutch. That seems a bit, oh, I don’t know – rude? Particularly when God went to all the trouble of setting things up so we could develop effective medication ourselves.

  • other lori

    Along with that, even suffering from mental illness doesn’t necessarily give you special insight into other mental illnesses.

    I have panic disorder. I understand panic disorder and can talk to you about theories about the cause and what it’s like to have a panic attack.

    But I don’t have any special insight into depression, or bipolar, or even things like social anxiety or PTSD that are also anxiety disorders. I just don’t. I’m just as much of an outsider looking in on those experiences as anybody else.

    Honestly, at the times when I’m feeling really good, I almost feel like that much of an outsider to my *own* experiences of anxiety. Like, at times when I’m not living in that place of frequent panic attacks and constant fear of panic attacks, it’s hard to imagine how I ever lived that way, why I didn’t just get over it.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think it’s very hard to understand how overwhelming and all-consuming mental illness can be from the outside, even if you are an outsider who has suffered from a different mental illness yourself or even if you have suffered from the same problems in the past. And even when you are in the midst of experiencing it, you can recognize how weird and inexplicable it is, and know that there are things you should be doing that would help you feel better but be genuinely, completely incapable of doing them.

  • other lori

    That was a silly article, but I do think it’s important to acknowledge that antipathy to psychiatric medication isn’t either endemic to or unique to religious believers.

    Many people, religious or not, see taking a medication for a psychiatric illness to be a sign of weakness. Some of the most “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” people I know are atheists. Gender also seems to play a big role in this, with men being more reluctant to both admit to mental illness and to seek treatment for it, which likely has to do with cultural ideas about masculinity that transcend religious belief and affiliation.

    I also know a lot of people within religious communities who have worked and are currently working to better address these issues. Many Christians are fully supportive of people using psychiatric medications and encourage people to acknowledge and seek treatment for mental illness.

    One thing to remember, I think, is that mental illness can be baffling even to the person suffering from it, in a way that physical illnesses like diabetes aren’t. Even with diabetes, though, how many people would tell people with Type II diabetes that it’s their own fault for being fat lazy gluttons, and that they should be able to control their illness through diet and exercise rather than taking medication? If the internet is any indication, a whole lot, many non-religious folks on the political left.

    So it’s certainly not that only conservative Christians are responsible for blaming people for illnesses, or who think that individuals should be able to cure any problem they have through sheer force of will. We are a culture that loves to find the blame for people’s problems on personal moral failings even when the evidence doesn’t support that–as is the case for both mental illness and adult-onset diabetes. We consider a whole host of problems that we know have significant genetic and environmental components outside of the sufferer’s control–mental illness, alcoholism, obesity, ADHD, stuttering, diabetes, high blood pressure, to name just a few common ones–to be the fault of the person affected, and which problems we blame on genes and which we blame on moral failures tends to come down to our place on the political spectrum, but people at all places do it.

  • JustoneK

    The thing is I _know_ conservative folks who treat the whole gamut that way. Sure, see a doctor if you can, but PRAY HARDER. If you’re still suffering from the physical disease YOU DIDN’T PRAY HARD ENOUGH.

  • other lori

    I think this comes from a lack of understanding about depression and anxiety that is situational versus that that is chronic.

    Practitioners who write prescriptions for SSRIs to deal with situational problems don’t help the matter. A good friend of mine, who happens to be a clinical psychologist, had an appointment with her PCP once, for a check-up, and it happened to occur at a time right after her boyfriend of seven years had left her, her grandfather had just died, and she was totally overwhelmed at work. Her doctor asked her how things were going, and she broke down crying. Her doctor’s response? She offered to write her a prescription for Prozac. My friend knew enough about her depression to know that that wasn’t what she was suffering from, and declined. But certainly there are doctors out there who see these drugs as a cure-all for any sadness, which doesn’t help things.

    The kind of depression and anxiety that are helped by SSRIs are not situational. I have panic disorder, and Zoloft helps me enormously. But, it doesn’t somehow cure any and all anxiety. I’m really stressed out today because my rent check might bounce–an anxiety-inducing situation–and being on Zoloft doesn’t somehow make me NOT feel anxious about that. It also wouldn’t be a valid reason to go on Zoloft. In this case, there is an underlying cause to my anxiety, and absolutely the underlying cause (not enough money in my checking account) is the problem.

    But, my panic disorder is different. I spent so many years driving myself crazy trying to figure out the “underlying cause” for why I was struggling. Was I a weak person? Had I been horribly abused as a child and repressed it (it was the 90s)? I felt for so long–for reasons that had nothing to do with religion–that I just needed to find my “underlying cause” and address it, and then I’d be fine. I went off of medication a lot of times in that search, and caused myself a lot of unneeded pain.

    Finally, I just recognized that, for whatever reason, this is a biochemical problem that I have. I can remember having panic attacks as far back as preschool. My mother, and her mother, and a number of my aunts on both sides, and a few uncles, and a bunch of cousins, all have either occasional panic attacks or full-blown panic disorder, so we seem to have a strong genetic disposition to it. I tend to respond in very strong physical ways not just to negative thoughts/emotions but also to other stimulants (a coffeeshop once gave me a regular latte instead of decaf, and my heart rate went up to 200 beats per minute). For whatever reason, my nervous system tends to get off balance really easy, and to go into “fight or flight” mode with minimal stimulation, and a low-dose of an SSRI seems to almost entirely correct that.

    The fact that I don’t feel, when I’m not suffering from daily panic attacks, like I have any deep-seated, hidden problems indicates to me that, in fact, I don’t. My problem is panic disorder, and SSRIs, in my case, treat it very well. If modern psychology has learned anything, it’s that many times looking for “underlying causes” is a waste of time and energy–and often not just a waste but actually something very damaging–and that treating symptoms (which in some cases ARE the problem) and addressing current thoughts and behaviors leads to far better outcomes than trying to reach some kind of catharsis by sifting through the past (a “treatment” that has no research backing its usefulness).

  • other lori

    This is still assuming, though, that there’s some unresolved issue that is causing somebody to be depressed or anxious that needs to be addressed. It’s an old psychoanalytic idea that doesn’t have any empirical evidence to support it.

    In many cases, the cause of depression or anxiety is a chemical imbalance that the SSRIs directly address. We don’t exactly understand how, but that seems to be how it works. It’s not like the person has all of these unresolved emotional problems or hidden abuses or unfulfilled desires that they just need to work through. (And, if they do, SSRIs will not make those problems go away, because they aren’t magic pills. They may, though, relieve the person’s symptoms to the point where they can address those issues.)

    Now, in a lot of cases, after years and years of untreated anxiety or depression, a person probably has developed a lot of habits of negative thoughts and unproductive behaviors that become maintaining causes of the problem, and they do need to address those for full recovery. But, it’s important not to confuse thoughts/behaviors that become maintaining causes with hidden or underlying traumas/problems that were precipitating causes. There is good reason for addressing the former, and little evidence that the latter are either the reason people suffer from mental illness or that addressing them could or would be therapeutic.

  • Just Sayin’

    His arguments are actually a lot more than that. I suggest you read his many posts on the subject. But there’s nothing like a bit of “nothing moreism” when one doesn’t want to consider an alternative opinion.

  • Just Sayin’

    As for reading comprehension, (a) I’ve read his arguments, I don’t think you’ve bothered; (b) ad hominem is not an argument (though it’s all the pro-antis seem to have here).

  • Just Sayin’

    Yes, reasoned arguments count for nothing, eh? Just attack the man, not the arguments. That’s all the pro-antis here seem able to do.

  • Just Sayin’

    Now the pro-antis are adding vulgarity and swearing to their “reasoning.” So impressive and soooo convincing!

  • Just Sayin’

    He’s not arguing science, he’s not qualified to do so. Try reading and addressing what he’s actually written.

  • EllieMurasaki

    So I ought to go off my antidepressants and end up suiciding? I thought you were trying to PREVENT suicides.

    Antidepressants do that much better than absence-of-antidepressants do. Not perfectly, but better.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Oh, by the way, what are your qualifications? Have you ever used antidepressants? Have you ever studied their use in a medical school?

  • Just Sayin’

    A dangerous tool perhaps. But you are basically agreeing with him, so that’s good. Expect to be sworn at! (on this blog anyway).

  • Just Sayin’

    Perhaps they die because of antidepressants. As for the rest of your invective — arguing that no medical treatment can ever be questioned rationally, because anyone doing so is directly responsible (supposedly) for people’s deaths — is about as irrational as it’s possible to be.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Oh, no, no, I wouldn’t think of being anything less than unreasonable when addressing David S, whose comment (unlike all yours, you fucking fuckwit, do not fucking dare tone-argument me again) expresses the view that there is nothing wrong with me taking the meds I need to stay alive.

  • Just Sayin’

    Trial and error when it involves people’s lives is not a good idea.

  • EllieMurasaki

    banancat is not saying “do not question antidepressants”. You are saying “do not ever use antidepressants”, and banancat is saying “the attitude that antidepressants should never be used is an attitude that KILLS PEOPLE”.

  • Just Sayin’

    Yes, keep attacking the person and ignore the arguments, it seems to be what the pro-antis do, on this blog anyway.

  • EllieMurasaki

    In absence of a way to map the brain and determine exactly which medication will best help without trying out any of them, got a better idea? Leaving depression untreated is NOT A BETTER IDEA.

  • EllieMurasaki

    You aren’t even reading our comments, are you.

  • Just Sayin’

    So… his arguments. Have you read them? If so, where does he go wrong. Stop being obsessed with the messenger and consider the message.

  • EllieMurasaki

    We have considered the message.

    We have rejected it, due to us being and us having friends who are people who will suffer horrible negative effects by accepting the message.

  • Just Sayin’

    No, it isn’t addressing any individual one, it’s not name-calling. It sums up a group of people. Feel free to call the opposite group the anti-antis. It’s just shorthand, not ad hominem. Ad hominem is the sort of disgraceful name-calling (and invective, swearing and lack of reasoning) seen on this thread.

  • Just Sayin’

    No, it’s not name-calling, it’s shorthand for a group who hold a common opinion. Feel free to refer to the anti-antis.

  • EllieMurasaki

    So “pro-death-by-lack-of-depression-medication folks” isn’t name-calling, it’s shorthand for a group who hold a common opinion. Feel free to refer to the anti-death-by-lack-of-depression-medication folks.

  • Just Sayin’

    For some people, of course this is true. But you cannot generalise from the particular.

  • Just Sayin’

    What are yours? Mine don’t matter, as I’m not citing myself, I’m citing someone else who has looked into the subject in depth.

  • LMM22

    Yes and no.

    My issue with the “difference not disability” meme is that, to me, it’s *still* (far too often) an attempt to dictate how I should feel about a condition that I have.

    I’m an Aspie. I would *kill* not to be on the spectrum. I know people who are fine with being on the spectrum — and I know *of* people who are proud of it. Too often, though, I feel like there isn’t enough room in a narrative to accommodate all of us. I don’t know if that’s because people who don’t want to be ‘cured’ feel like they’re under siege or because we keep talking at each other. (I don’t want a cure because I feel like the world doesn’t accommodate me — I want a cure because I want to be able to read other people and because I want to be able to appreciate good acting!)

    Being different is … like being from a small town, in a way. There are people who love it. They don’t *want* to live in a big city — all the bustle and commotion and unfriendliness gets to them. If you ask them about their town, they’ll tell you about the people they know and the fact that they can go hiking and fishing once they get home from work. And they feel defensive when they talk to people from big cities, because those people don’t understand why they would want to live there.

    And then there are people who *don’t* want to live in the small town. Maybe they want to be a performer or an artist or do something that they can’t do in their small town. Maybe they don’t like the cliquish nature of the town. Maybe they’re LGBT and they want to have a dating pool that’s larger than the two or three people they know who are also out.

    Both are fine positions to have, but it feels like we can’t accept both at once. Either small towns are oppressive because minorities can’t fit in or they’re ableist or homophobic or transphobic — or they’re great places because they have tight-knit communities that support each other. But having one or the other position dictated to you from someone else — or, worse yet, having someone try to ‘solve’ your like or dislike of your hometown (of course you could have xxx job — you could telecommute!) — is atrociously patronizing. And making one position into an official narrative (or pointing to one or the other as the ‘real’ opinion of the ‘actual’ small town community) is even worse.

  • EllieMurasaki

    My qualifications are ‘person who takes antidepressants and is thus familiar with their use as a patient’, as I’ve said. What are yours? What are his?

  • EllieMurasaki

    You seem to be generalizing from the particular cases of people who go on anti-depressants and who lose their lethargy before they lose their suicidal ideation.

    You cannot generalize from the particular.

  • Just Sayin’

    More swearing. Do the pro-antis have anything other than vulgarity, invective and ad hominem? Any rational arguments out there?

  • EllieMurasaki

    We have I AM ALIVE BECAUSE OF ANTI-DEPRESSANTS.

    Why do you keep dismissing that?

    Uh-oh, quarter past. Got to go. Not that it hasn’t been a pleasure having a calm polite discussion with someone who thinks I ought to go off my anti-depressants and DIE.

  • Just Sayin’

    No, I’m not saying that, never have, and you won’t find me saying it on this thread. I’m not saying anything, I’m citing someone else who has looked into the matter in depth. Try reading his arguments, if you like. And please calm down, I’m looking for a rational discussion (and sadly failing to find it).

  • Just Sayin’

    Well, no-one has said depression shouldn’t be treated, it’s how it should be treated that’s up for discussion.

  • Just Sayin’

    I’m certainly reading yours. Who is this “our” by the way? A group one might describe as the “pro-antis”?

  • Just Sayin’

    Who is this “we”? The pro-antis again? One can’t generalise from the particular by the way. Your experience is your experience only, nothing more.

  • Just Sayin’

    No, your “pro-death” is emotive, judgment-laden invective. Pro-anti merely describes a group who share an opinion and may well be right in that opinion. Then again, maybe not. That’s the discussion I’m trying to have (and getting not much more than vulgarity and invective in response).

  • Just Sayin’

    Once again, you can’t generalise from one instance (your own). Your experience is your personal experience only. That’s why arguments need to be addressed.

  • Just Sayin’

    Yes, cases, plural. That’s the important point. Not my personal experience, not yours.

  • Just Sayin’

    Because one cannot base an argument on one individual’s personal experience, no matter how sincere.

  • Just Sayin’

    By the way, please stop the personal attacks.


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