In the first of a chilling two-part expose, the Des Moines Register reports on how a faith-based treatment organisation run by two Assembly of God pastors persuaded the 26-year-old from Iowa to immediately stop taking the medications he was prescribed for anxiety and depression. Within days of entering the programme run by the Dream Center, Alex Jacobsen tried to slash his throat with a boxcutter.
The free discipleship programme Jacobsen was determined to try offered to heal people of substance abuse, anger, depression and “the emotional residue left by mental, physical and sexual abuse” through prayer, Scripture memorisation and building a closer relationship with God.
Jacobsen says he had his doubts that the programme would work. But he wanted to try trading in his anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medication for a regimen of Bible study, amino acids and supplements to reduce stress.
He says his close friend of about a year and a half, the Rev Kevin Grimes, pastor and founder of the Spencer Dream Center in Spencer, Iowa, had convinced him that:
Medicine alone wasn’t going to be the answer to my problems.
Grimes, above, who struck up a a friendship with Jacobsen on Facebook, believed that placing the young man in a safe environment, where he could get closer to God, could be life-changing. The pastor said:
In my mind, Alex’s anxiety was environmental. I knew he was stressed out. But I also knew he was taking all kinds of meds.
The contract Jacobsen signed required participants to certify they had no medical conditions that would keep them from participating. The agreement also released the Dream Center and its affiliates of :
Any liability whatsoever arising as a result of death, injury or illness.
The rules mandated that those in the programme:
Withdraw from any and all substance dependence voluntarily and without the use of medication.
Medical professionals who treated Jacobsen told the family he could have died from suddenly quitting benzodiazepines such as Klonopin, often used to treat seizures or panic disorders.
Sweating, insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, psychosis and suicidal thoughts are other withdrawal symptoms, according to research from the Society for the Study of Addiction. Many of the same symptoms also can occur from stopping Cymbalta, a drug for depression, and Latuda, the anti-psychotic he was taking.
Looking back, Jacobsen also questions his relationship with Grimes. Some of the communications between the pastor, a father of two, and himself now seem odd, he says.
I kind of feel like he was grooming me that whole time for some other reason than being my friend.
In response, Grimes says only:
We were friends. We joked around.
But Jacobsen’s suicide attempt underscored that his small, faith-based programme is not equipped to treat mental illness, the pastor said.
Alex was right. We didn’t know the depth of his issues.
Grimes says he and his non-profit board have since changed the programme’s rules. Now, a doctor will have to assure them that a potential participant has been off mood-altering medications for at least a year before joining the discipleship programme.
Dave Jacobsen holds Grimes and and others involved in the programme responsible for what happened to his son, and wants to know how a programme claiming to provide drug treatment could be exempt from an Iowa law that requires licensing of such facilities.
And he questions how a faith-based treatment program can operate without clinical expertise.
They do not have the medical or psychological training to do what they’re doing. If the state doesn’t require some sort of oversight, this will happen to other families.