A mentally ill man attempts suicide after a faith-based treatment center replaced his medication with prayers and Bible study.
Alex Jacobsen, a 26-year-old man suffering from clinical depression and crippling anxiety, was convinced by two Assembly of God pastors to check himself into their faith-based clinic and stop taking his medication cold turkey. Instead of modern medicine, the pastors told Jacobsen prayer and Bible study would heal him.
The results were disastrous.
Ten days after checking into the Discipleship Program at the Dream Center in downtown Spencer, and going off his medication cold turkey, Jacobsen put a box cutter to his throat, pressing it into his skin until the blood began to flow. Paramedics arrived just in time to save his life, but questions remain as to why a pastor with no medical training practicing at a faith based clinic can advise a patient to discontinue medications prescribed for a medical condition.
Yet since 1975, faith-based organizations that rely “solely on prayer or other spiritual means for healing” have been given a blanket exemption by the Iowa Legislature from licensing and standards aimed at providing safe, quality care.
The residential program Jacobsen checked himself into is modeled after Teen Challenge, a national program that relies on Bible memorization, prayer, and building a better relationship with Jesus. Participants must agree to be drug free, including medication prescribed by a legitimate medical doctor.
Commenting on the story, Dr. William Miller, an emeritus distinguished professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of New Mexico, said:
It is utterly unprofessional for a counselor … to advise someone to discontinue medications prescribed for a medical condition in the mistaken belief that sobriety requires it.
One patient, Lila Fodmeff, left the program after two days because Dream Center staffers asked her to go off Effexor, an anti-anxiety medication. Fodmeff said:
They believe God will heal you. I believe that’s pretty risky.
As for Jacobsen, he is out of the faith-based treatment center and is currently undergoing new treatment at a Sioux City hospital.
For those considering self-harm, help can be found at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.